More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 08 – Lost in the forest of decision

This week was difficult at times, but also necessary in a satisfying way. We start with Shiori, Mei, Jirou, and Akari all alone, wondering how long things will stay “this way”, in a state of confusion, frustration, and longing. Not forever, surely!

Even Jirou’s video game is asking him to make a choice between two princesses, warning him the wrong one would “destroy the kingdom”. That’s not far off! Suffice it to say, the current state of things is becoming untenable for everyone.

When the new monthly rankings come out, Jirou and Akari only make it to thirteenth place, which means they still lack the mechanism to enact a decision regarding whom they wish to truly be with. Even so, the marriage practical is a false obstacle. They really don’t need to make it to the Top 10 to sort this out!

In the meantime, Jirou and Akari’s marriage continues apace. Akari’s arachnophobia supplants any modesty about running in on Jirou when he’s nakked in the bath, and in her state of fear and vulnerability she’s never squeezed him tighter. Since the 2mm spider has disappeared, Akari insists on Jirou staying by her side all day, even as she does her nails.

Jirou can shrug off all this sudden intimacy with Akari as a product of her fear of spiders and need for someone by her side to protect her, not necessarily a romantic partner. Since they’re still playing the marriage game to make the Top 10 and swap for their crushes, he remains convinced Akari isn’t interested in him in any other way.

Of course, she is, and she wouldn’t bring up “what ifs” like asking what would’ve happened if they’d met outside the bounds of the compulsory marriage practical. Nor would she ask if they should try dating, like the fifth-ranked couple apparently has started to do. She only says “just kidding” because the silence grows too long, while Jirou wonders why he thought seriously about it for a second. Dude, because she was serious.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last time Akari says something straight-up only to amend it or dismiss it as messing around. The beautifully staged and lit overhead shot of the two alone in their bed that night says still more than her overt words. That thick, dark wall is doing a lot of work, visually and thematically.

Over at Casa de Sakurazawa-Tenjin, Minami can tell something’s troubling Shiori and offers to help, even if he’s not confident he’ll be able to. Shiori confides in him her “friend’s” situation, in which she’s kissed the person they like and now can’t think of anything else. Minami picks up pretty easily that Shiori is talking about herself, but steadfastly doesn’t break the charade.

We finally learn something interesting about Minami in that he apparently missed his chance to confess to the person he loved, and urges Shiori’s “friend” to have confidence and keep trying if there’s a possibility it will work out. We knew that he and Shiori had nothing going on romantically, but this proves it. Also, pretty rich telling her to be confident when he apparently has so little of his own!

As for the true third vertex in the Shiori-Jirou love triangle, Hamano Mei and Shiori have a deeply romantic little scene in the classroom after school, even if Shiori isn’t at all aware of  how her compliments truly affect Mei. Even Mei’s husband Shuu is aware of how much she loves Shiori, and arranges to go out with Minami on a karaoke all-nighter so the two girls can have a sleepover.

Shuu learns another nugget about Minami when he hangs out with him and their café boss that night: Minami has an older brother, and their boss says since it’s a family of “ikemen” even siblings are rivals. Sounds like his bro might’ve stolen his true love? As for the boss, he’s Sadaharu’s older brother.

When Shiori and Mei are planning sleeping arrangements, talk turns to looking at old photos. Mei looks forward to seeing lil’ Shiori … right up until Shiori bashfully says most of the photos contain Jirou as well. Mei checks her phone and heads off on a family errand, abandoning the sleepover plan because she knows who Shiori really loves.

Sadaharu ends up at a restaurant with Jirou, and despite not drinking like his big bro, comes up with the hair-brained idea that he needs to bring his new accidentally lecherous friend back down to his level … by kissing him. While he’s leaning in for that smooch, Shiori, now alone, just happens to pass by, and seemingly gets a look at them, and walks off with no reaction.

Jirou chases after her to explain things, but as she didn’t actually see him and Sadaharu, she assumes he’s talking about their accidental kiss. She was looking at the restaurant sign that contained the symbol for “kiss”. When they thankfully clear up this misunderstanding, they each take one of the handles of the bag and walk together.

When conversation turns back to their kiss, Shiori insists that Jirou hear her out. He doesn’t have to apologize for the kiss, because she asked him to kiss her for practice, and she admits she learned a lot, so she earnestly thanks him. Jirou is confused, since he still thinks she wants to be “friends (and only friends) forever”, but he can’t deny that she sets up another potential kiss for them right then and there.

Sadly, when two cats interrupt their moment Shiori quickly shifts to small talk, but hey, at least these two are talking again, and Jirou understands that Shiori doesn’t feel bad about their kiss.

Jirou’s video game princess warned that the kingdom will be destroyed if he makes the wrong choice. The “kingdom” in this case could be his friendship with Shiori, whether they take it to the next level or if he chooses Akari. The same scenarios apply to Mei: confessing to Shiori means possibly abandoning regular friendship in the future.

In either case, the old has to be torn down before something new can be built in its place. The fear and hesitance of doing so is all too understandable and relatable—as is the result of not making choices: the aforementioned increasingly untenable purgatory. Something’s gotta give, and hopefully something will!

I’ve watched many a frustrating-as-hell rom-rom in which characters didn’t make what I felt to be the obvious, easy choice. This show is doing a great job really putting us in each character’s shoes and explaining why they’re having so much difficulty, and making clear that there are no easy choices.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 07 – Okaeri, Akari

I just want to express my surprise and gratitude that Akari’s gyaru-friends Sachi and Natsumi are actually good people too! When they see Shiori with too many bags of garbage (a powerful metaphor for how accommodating and self-subordinating she is), they offer to help, even conscripting Jirou and Sadaharu when they slouch past.

When Shiori declines to carry a bag with Jirou, it’s a critical hit to his heart, but also shows their accidental kiss has left the two more awkward and distant than ever. Sachi and Natsumi can also tell that Akari must feel something for Jirou at this point, and she doesn’t deny it.

They’re not pushing her towards Jirou or Minami—in fact, they say those aren’t the only two guys in the world. They want her to be happy, and to settle on her own choice on her terms. Opportunity knocks when the girls see a poster for an upcoming fireworks festival.

Naturally, dressing Akari in her yukata is a job for her “husband”, and while her talk with her friends leads to her mentioning Minami more as she teases Jirou, the fact of the matter is, having Jirou dress her is as big a deal for her as it is for him; he just can’t see her red face since he’s behind her. It’s also telling that she says a bow-style obi tie is too “childish”—again assuming Minami only likes mature things.

Akari meets Sachi and Natsumi at the festival with her head held high, ready to take a step forward in figuring (gestures everywhere) all this out. Of course, it’s not that easy, as she’s trying to go back to a place where she’s comfortable play-acting as a wife to Jirou and she’s back to thinking only of Minami in a romantic capacity. In effect, she’s trying to go back to a place that no longer exists.

Even if spending the evening with Minami cleared things up, that opportunity is torn away from her at the last minuite, as his friends arrive Minami-less and contrite; he had to take an extra shift at work due to the festival, and was too nice to turn it down.

Sachi tries to salvage the night by having the boys buy them a bunch of snacks and sweets as penance, but after psyching herself up, Akari is rightfully deflated. To add insult to injury, she spots Minami at the festival after all, in street clothes with Shiori and in what looks like pleasant conversation.

It turns out they’re just taking the shortest route to a point where he’ll go off to work while she’ll head home. They’re not on a date, and from their scene together, there’s still no actual romantic chemistry between them. They’re simply both doing their part as partners in a practical exercise.

Of course, that’s not what it looked liked to Akari, and that’s all that matters. Her friends see her turn pale and assume she’s disappointed in not getting to be with Minami. In reality, she’s that way because she did see him. When the other boys said he wouldn’t be coming, a part of her even felt relieved.

Jirou doesn’t have to spend this night alone at home. He could have called Shiori and taken a step towards that route had he wanted; I doubt she would have refused judging from her look back after she and Minami parted. I wouldn’t really have felt bad for him if his self-imposed loneliness had endured.

However, I do feel bad that, like Akari, he’s simply not sure of anything anymore. If he and Akari are a functional and happy fake couple, he knows one day they won’t be, like when it comes time to swap partners. He worries about what they’ll be after that, and even if they’ll be anything at all.

But when he gets a call from Akari and there are only tears on the other side of the line, if he’s paying attention he’s answering his own question with his reaction: slipping on his coat and running to wherever she is. Luckily for him, that turns out to be right outside their door. As Akari sobs into her hands, she apologizes to Jirou, and by extention, everyone who worked so hard to create an opportunity for her to move forward.

She also worked hard herself, taking extra time to make her hair, nails, and makeup perfect for Minami. And yet, at the end, she just came home. Jirou dries her eyes with his sleeve, then offers a hand up, saying “Welcome home”. Akari collapses into his arms, saying “I’m home”, and has the big, wet, cathartic cry she needs to have. And only Jirou’s arms will do.

Once the tears have passed, the two stand on the balcony as the fireworks start in the distance. When she teases him more and accuses him of being jealous, he doesn’t deny it, which surprises her, but she likes it. Then she takes his hands, puts them on her obi, and asks him to make the bow he wants to make.

When he gets to a step he can’t do, she takes out her phone to find the instructional video. When it slips out of her hands, it falls into his, and she puts her hands over his and draws them close, asking him to simply hold her and say her name, again and again. If he does, she thinks she can “try again”.

Jirou remembers Akari saying how she loses her confidence sometimes, and this is definitely one of those times. In this moment, and while upside-down heart-shaped fireworks start to explode above them, Jirou does as he’s told. She thanks him for not asking what happened, but simply being there for her.

In his mind, Jirou admits he didn’t ask because he didn’t want to know. Just as Akari felt relieved when she heard Minami wouldn’t be coming, Jirou felt relieved when she came home. While he still considers their happiness in this moment to be fleeting, perhaps both he and Akari would be better-served listening to those little pangs of relief and what that means not for Minami, or Shiori, but the two of them.

This episode surpassed the previous racy couch scenes because this felt a lot more overtly romantic. The two have identified those moments of relief and want to understand them better, even as they are still on some level committed to rooting for each other with their other potential partners. Combine the beautiful visuals, lighting, and colors of these scenes with Akari’s friends being The Best and we have the best Fuukoi outing yet.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 06 – Hearts Racing Together

One morning, Akari is acting like a caring, loving wife, the kind that is again propelling her and Jirou into the top of the practical rankings (which are a thing I find myself caring less and less about as the show goes on). The only thing that gives Jirou pause is the fact that Akari keeps calling him by his last name, even seemingly accentuating the “Yakuin”.

Jirou doesn’t know why, but it bothers him, and he even googles “why is a girlfriend suddenly calling you by your last name”. Seems like a step backwards, or some kind of message, right? Then Jirou and Sadaharu happen to witness Hamano Mei rejecting female kohai who just confessed her love for her.

Aside from it being a magnificently gay scene I was waiting for, Mei demonstrates that she’s very good at the gentle turn-down, and I have no reason to doubt she truly is happy that this girl fell for her, even if she can’t return the feelings. Mei also bears part of the burden for not “being mindful enough to notice” the girl’s feelings, then indulges her with a warm embrace and calls her by her first name.

Jirou wants to notice what’s causing Akari to use his last name, so that already shows he’s being mindful. He’s a good kid, thinking about how she feels! When he’s about to shower, Akari barges in with the rankings on her phone: they’re now in eighth place, and she hugs him while he’s shirtless, which is a first.

Later, she helps him dry his hair—which he washed with a shampoo she chose for both of them. When she hits the hair dryer, Jirou says her first name, then again. The third time he says it is when she switches it off, and she hears it, and calls him Jirou in turn. Now he gets it: she simply wanted him to call her Akari first. She says its for the benefit of their artificial marriage, but it’s clear him calling her Akari makes her blush every time.

While Jirou figured out this little mini-mystery of how he and Akari address one another, he’s still largely in the dark about Shiori’s true feelings. In that regard, his lack of mindfulness stems from her years-old friendzoning of him, which he felt at the time meant that was that and there were lines beyond childhood friendship she’d rather not cross.

But that was then, and Shiori regretted it then and has yet to resolve matters. In this, her best friend Mei most likely subordinated her own unrequited romantic feelings for Shiori in order to ensure she’s happy, by doing everything possible to bring her and Jirou together. She makes it clear if Shiori isn’t more aggressive in letting Jirou know her feelings, Akari (or some other girl) will beat her to the punch.

When Shiori gets hit in the head by an errant football, Mei sends her to the nurses office and promises to send Jirou there, where it’s clear she wants Shiori to do what she couldn’t do during their shared classroom duties. When Jirou hesitates, Mei verbally kicks him in the butt to get in there and see Shiori already.

But while Mei can’t understand why her Shiori loves a “coward” like Jirou, she’s missing the fact that Shiori’s been a coward too! Coward is probably too strong a term; more like stubborn in their shared belief that the other isn’t interested despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

When Jirou visits the nurse’s office to see Shiori, the two find themselves all alone in the dark. They exchange some awkward small talk, Jirou notices that Minami brought her a sandwich and sports drink before he did (though Mei gave him his). Shiori mentions how well Jirou and Akari are doing, he says they still fight a lot, and Shiori remarks how she’d like to see Jirou angry sometime. That is to say, she wants to know more about him beyond the childhood friend.

She also makes it clear when Jirou brings up making romantic progress that she and Minami have done no such thing, and that furthermore, even if it was with someone she liked, she’d worry about being too nervous and inexperienced. This must feel to Jirou like a comfortable mirror.

Shiori makes another blunder by saying she wants to “practice” kissing with Jirou, which suggests she’d rather kiss someone else “for real”, but Jirou, who had just gotten a talking-to from Mei to “go for it”, agrees and leans in to kiss Shiori.

At the very last second Shiori hesitates again, which happens before Akari’s gyaru-friend Sachi comes in to skip class, hears the bed creaking, and sees boy’s and girl’s shoes through the gap in the curtain. Sachi is scandalized and makes a quick exit, but her entrance caused Jirou to slip and fall … right onto Shiori and her lips.

Accident or not, the two have finally kissed, and it was so unexpected and so … so much for both of them they basically short-circuit in unison and agree to part ways for the time being. I feel so bad for both Mei and Akari, as these two are—and I can’t stress this enough—the fucking worst.

I mean everyone has their pace that they must follow (I think about Chuu2Koi handled this quite well). But you don’t have to jump each other’s bones; you can use their words and clear all this up! Say you like him! Say you like her! Boom! But they don’t.

All throughout this time, Akari has been trying to get ahold of Jirou, but he’s ignored her last four texts. Then Sachi shows up and tells her what went down in the nurse’s office, and right after hearing this Akari gets a text from Jirou saying he was in the nurse’s office. Naturally, her thoughts go straight to Shiori.

I continue to feel so bad for Akari. I’m sure Minami is a nice guy, but she doesn’t really know him. She does know Jirou a lot more, and is developing feelings for him that are quickly replacing the more shallow attraction nad idolization for Minami. Also, I doubt Minami is any more interested in her than he is Shiori.

And hey, what do you know, Akari is so preoccupied with Jirou that she doesn’t even notice Minami served her that drink! I am HERE for the Minami erasure. We’re in episode six. If we go another six without him so much as uttering a line, I’ll be perfectly content.

What we have here, then, is a love triangle. And with her assumption Jirou went and did something with Shiori in the nurse’s office, Akari is understandably lonely and depressed. It doesn’t help matters that her gyaru-friends stand her up at the café, though Minami gives her some free extra whipped cream and a note to cheer her up (though again, you get the impression he’d do this with anyone).

When she comes home late, Jirou is passed out on the couch. Akari sees the chocolates and deduces he waited for her. She doesn’t check her phone and see the text warning that the chocolates contained whiskey. She does unfold the couch (which of course becomes a bed), disrobe and curl up next to the dozing Jirou, asking him if this is what he did with Shiori, or did they take things even further.

What’s so heartbreaking is that Akari isn’t mad that Jirou might’ve slept with Shiori. After all, who wouldn’t want to have their first time be with someone so clearly important to them? Even more heartbreaking? Lines like “Did you go off and become an adult without me?” and “Don’t leave me behind,” and “I’ll cheer on in your love … but just for now, while I’m your wife, could you wait?” Just one dagger after the other.

Jirou regains consciousness from his inadvertent choco-bender very confused Akari is sleeping beside him in her underwear. When he asks what happened, Akari teases him for forgetting what happened … for forgetting what he did to her. She then asks “was last night your first time?” to which he answers yes, because he assumes she means the two of them.

When he proceeds to apologize if he didn’t perform to her standards and such, she admits she was lying, they didn’t do it. When Jirou is a bit too emphatic in his relief, since it means he’s still a virgin, Akari is miffed. I’m not sure he meant to imply he’s glad he didn’t lose it to her because he’d rather lose it to Shiori (I think he’s just glad he didn’t pop his cherry and not remember it)—but that’s how she interprets it.

It sucks that this is how the episode, and the first half of the season, wraps up: with another misunderstanding. But even if Jirou picks up on what Akari is mad and is able to smooth things over, the underlying triangle remains. While Shiori did stop them from kissing for real, they did lock lips, and once she and Jirou fully process that, that dance will continue. And this conflict will surely drive the second half.

Could Akari be clearer about how she’s acting toward Jirou is less about being a great pretend wife for the sake of getting Minami and more about legitimate feelings for him? Sure! Could Shiori, for the benefit of both Akari and the long-suffering Mei, please kindly shit or get off the pot? Perhaps! But Jirou can also keep being as mindful as he can be. As long as he’s wracking his brain, there’s potential for progress on all fronts. Whatever happens, I’m loving these characters, and this show.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 05 – Sharing fabric softener

Akari’s crush continues to be supplanted by feelings for the mock husband right in front of her, and throughout the episode she expresses this though lots of teasing and physical contact, starting with a loving wife’s hug before Jirou heads off for school duties. Little does he know that Shiori has arranged to swap duties with her sporty pianist wife Hamano Mei so she can get some quality time with Jirou.

Before the arrangement, Mei is trying to get Shiori to do what needs to be done to get the man she wants—which may yet involve a giant Acme-brand mallet with which to smack him over the head. Shiori says “Jirou doesn’t think of me that way” but Mei knows better; Shiori just needs to make her feelings plain and obvious before Akari snatches him up. Akari’s galfriends only tease her about the prospect of falling for Jirou, but they’re on the right track!

Despite my increasing affinity for Akari and Akari x Jirou, being a sucker for childhood friends I relished the opportunity for Shiori and Jirou to hang out together without interruptions from Akari, Minami, or Sadaharu (who sits this episode out; I don’t mind the guy but appreciated a break from him).

The results are predictable: having class duties together reminds them of when they had them in middle school, and the two settle into that warm, happy nostalgia and familiarity. But when it comes time to leave the safety of the past and try to grasp the future with a solicited kiss, Akari thinks he’s dreaming, while Shiori withdraws at the last moment and must beat the shit out of the erasers in frustration with herself.

Unfortunately, this leaves Jirou with the same impression as the start of the day: that while there are occasional signs here and there, Shiori doesn’t like him “that way”. That leaves him gloomy on the balcony an otherwise dazzlingly starry night, and Akari joins him with mugs of hot milk in a genuinely heartwarming gesture of trying to cheer him up.

That inherent kindness in Akari’s character is at odds with a deep resentment that he’s feeling so down over another girl, which of course reflects how he feels whenever she gets riled up about Minami. Akari decides to press the teasing by insisting he start calling her by her name, and is shocked when he does it immediately, while explaining why he had trouble before.

Akari gets much more than she bargained for here, and has to retreat before Jirou sees her beet-red face and ears. Gathering her patio door curtain around her, she curses these confusing feelings. To this point she’s been in love with the idea of Minami, but that idea is losing ground to the reality of Jirou.

When their teacher announces that practical couples’ scores will be combined and everaged together, Jirou is anxious, as he’s not sure the extent of Akari’s academic prowess. But rather than simply presume she’s a dunce, he asks her about it, and her tone and body language make it clear she’s far from confident about it.

He asks her to cancel her karaoke plans so they can study together, but she says it’s “not so easy” to break said plans because she was invited by other guys, as opposed to her galfriends. To this, Akari says “I’m asking for you too here,” and she relents, but believes he’s only being this “desperate” for Shiori’s sake. Meanwhile, Mei continues to prove that she may just be the most deserving of Shiori’s hand in marriage. If nothing else, she’s trying her best to make Shiori happy and successful in love.

Jirou finds that while Akari picks things up fast, she hates the fundamental idea of studying. Her frustration from the assumption he’s only doing this for him and Shiori leads her to up her teasing and flirting game considerably, cozying up to Jirou and saying he can “do whatever he wants”.

Jirou averts his gaze, and ends up seeing that Akari figured did a challenging math problem correctly. The rest of the study session progresses and their couple score continues to go up. When they’re done, Akari isn’t ready to eat dinner yet, and would rather get Jirou to admit she makes his heart race.

She does this by jumping into his lap, but she grows more frustrated when he tries to ignore her, so she turns around so they’re front-to-front, and tells him he can look at her if he wants. When he still won’t, she grabs him even tighter, and he ends up flipping them over so she’s on her back.

At this point the two are in dangerous territory, and Akari can hear his heart pounding now. It’s here where Jirou starts to let his hormones take over, caressing her cheek. Akari says he can’t once, then twice, but then takes hold of his shoulder to pull him nearer, and closes her eyes to prepare for a kiss …

I knew amorous congress was going to be interrupted by something, be it doorbell, phone, or Sadaharu. This time, it’s Jirou’s nose, which suddenly starts bleeding. Though Jirou thanks his nose profusely for stopping him from doing something he’d regret. Once the bleeding is stemmed by a tissue, the two fold laundry together—the hot-and-heaviness replaced by a picture of domestic bliss.

Akari laughs at Jirou for getting a bloody nose in such a situation, but Jirou in turn asks her what is up with her pestering him so heavily all night. She brings up how she’s frustrated by how desperately he’s trying to prevent Shiori from leaving him behind. He, in turn, tells her he’s not just doing it for him and Shiori, but her and Minami, and further tells her he’s sure she’d reach A-rank with anyone, not just him. He simply hoped that after she’d gained so many points for them, he’d try to contribute by helping with her studies.

Jirou doesn’t know just how happy it makes Akari to hear that, because as far as he’s concerned she doesn’t feel anything serious for him, and her amorous actions have only been to tease him. But Akari is feeling less grateful that he’s doing this for her and Minami when it’s currently the two of them together that makes her heart race for real. She thinks about a future where they switch partners, and their clothes no longer smell like the same fabric softener, and … it’s not necessarily something she wants.

Fuukoi continues to do tremendous character work in the midst of what will always be a silly and contrived premise, and its deft “couch time” animation and Akari’s facial expressions in general continue to impress. There’s still a lot of confusion and awkwardness from all parties, but Shiori is gradually fumbling her way closer to Jirou, while dangerous couch session Akari’s true feelings may be coming into better focus.

Jirou’s self-loathing-fueled obliviousness can’t hold out forever. If it isn’t already, his confidence in Shiori being his one and only will surely start taking the same dents as Akari’s in Minami being hers.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 04 – Shoulder to cry on

During P.E. class when Minami is playing basketball and generally looking like a higher form of life, both Akari and Jirou hear from their friend(s) that he and Shiori are considering staying with one another as a marriage practical couple despite making A-rank.

This news obviously puts a wrench in Akari and Jirou’s plan, leaving both feeling blue. Jirou, knowing how much Akari likes Minami, imagines he’s in a fantasy video game and Minami ends up beating the final boss and winning the hearts of both heroines.

When Jirou and Shiori cross paths, to Jirou’s credit he doesn’t pretend something isn’t bothering him, and Shiori’s known him long enough to know that something is. She says she’s not sure yet whether she and Minami are extending their time together, so Jirou starts to try to tell her he’ll work hard to attain A-rank so that they can be paired together.

Meanwhile, Akari gets cleanup duty for chatting during P.E., and ends up crossing paths with Minami. His sudden presence in the storage room startles her, and she bumps into a shelf, causing a box to start to fall. Minami rushes towards her and starts to fall, leaving them face-to-face.

Akari asks Minami what Jirou asked Shiori, and his answer is yes, he’ll stay by Shiori’s side “forever” if that’s what she wants. Throughout the whole exchange but unbeknownst to Minami, Akari’s heart is beating like a hummingbird, and when she hears what sounds like a rejection from his lips, she starts to cry. Then Minami puts his hand on her chin…

I say Jirou started to tell Shiori he wanted to pair with her, because he isn’t able to get the words out. I would have hoped Shiori would have gotten the gist but she apparently doesn’t when Jirou’s friend Kamo interrupts, having seen Akari and Minami in the storage room together.

But before Kamo can say anything, Minami and Akari exit the school, and Jirou senses a strange atmosphere. Minami and Shiori head home together chatting spiritedly about nothing in particular, while Akari acts awkward and distant towards Jirou and heads off on her own.

He later learns that Akari ditched class, and Kamo tells him he witnessed “kissing going on” between Minami and Akari. He shrugs it off as having nothing to do with him, but it’s clear that he has conflicting feelings about it, what with he and Akari getting along so well of late.

When he comes home, Akari is lying on the couch on her phone, looking morose. He sits down beside her, sarcastically apologizes for not being Minami, and she asks him upfront why he’d bring him up. That’s when, again, to his credit, Jirou doesn’t beat around the bush, but says what he heard: that she was kissing Minami after P.E.

Akari laughs it off, as in reality he was just checking her eye for dust; Kamo saw what he wanted to saw from the angle he had. Akari thinks it’s “hilarious” that Jirou thought a misunderstanding from “straight out of a manga” took place. But Jirou tells her he was ready to root for her, and it’s only fair to expect her to get some kind of return considering how hard she’s been working to get Minami to look her way.

At this, Akari’s mask of sarcasm drops, and bitter tears of frustration start to fall. Jirou is right in theory, but the reality is Minami doesn’t see her that way, and more and more seems to be content to be with Shiori, even beyond the marriage practical situation. When she realizes she’s crying in front of Jirou, she tells him to look away, and he does … kinda. He pulls her into an embrace so that his head is next to hers.

In this way, he’s technically “looking away”, but he’s also there for her, in a moment when she needs someone to be there. She needs to have a good cry without the pressure of having to hold it in to keep up appearances. At this point, Jirou knows who Watanabe Akari is more than anyone else at school, Minami included. And Akari, no doubt having that feeling of being safe and secure in Jirou’s arms, puts her arm around him and cries it out.

After this cathartic moment, Jirou feels self-conscious for overreaching, literally and figuratively, but he did the right thing, as evidenced by Akari’s mood after a cleansing shower. First, she borrows one of his t-shirts, resulting in the deceptively powerful boyfriend shirt scenario. Then she plops right down beside him, leans on him, and has some ice cream as she watches TV.

When he insists he’s no longer overwhelmed by situations like this, she puts her ear to his chest and calls him a liar, as his heart is racing. Of course, since she was worried Minami could hear her beating heart in the storage room, she can relate, which is why she’s so comfortable around Jirou now.

She also hastens to mention that she’s not so “easy” that she’d kiss Minami on a whim, and in any case, she says to him for the first time that her first kiss ever was with Jirou. Jirou sits there unresponsive as she shakes him and urges him to answer for that kiss, and as he does, he admits in his thoughts how happy he feels.

Perhaps for the first time, he’s not thinking about losing Shiori to Minami, or Akari preferring Minami to him. He and and Akari are simply sitting together on their couch, enjoying each other’s company; a cozy, caring family of two. It’s something I could honestly watch all day.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 03 – Starting over from zero

Akari knows Jirou is in love with Shiori, but wants to know specifically why he’s drawn to an earnest, family-oriented girl, and what he wants such a girl to do for him. He wisely says “lunch”, which sets Akari off on a homemade bento kick.

She proves to be a very good bento cook, and they gain lots of points as cook and taste-tester, but one little detail—a lack of sugar in the rolled omelet—reminds Jirou that she’s doing all of this for Minami, not him. That shouldn’t bother him, as he’s into Shiori…and yet.

Jirou also can’t help but feel a little…left out when Akari goes all out to look as cute as possible to deliver a bento to Minami at his part-time job. But then Akari asks him for another goodbye kiss as a reward for her hard work, and tells him she only wants his kiss, since it made her feel safe.

Before he can summon the guts to kiss her again, Shiori shows up with extra apple pies she made for Minami, citing his sweet tooth. When she sees Akari with Jirou and a box lunch for an apparent picnic, she leaves feeling lonely. Little does she know she caused Akari’s confidence to absolutely plummet.

She never delivers the bento, and sits on the couch with her head in her knees. Jirou tries to cheer her up, but the bottom line is, she though she could appeal to Minami with cooking, but was wrong about him not liking sweet things, and now doesn’t know what to do.

Jirou tells her she has “tons more good points”, but when put on the spot, the only things he lists are related to her looks, body, and sex appeal. When she asks if he’s ever though about her that way, he says no, but she knows he’s lying. Then she jumps on top of him.

The animation and Oonishi Saori’s voice acting do a lot of strong, heavy lifting here, as the scene strides the line between being amorous and a little forced. You can see in Akari’s face and hear in her voice that she’s just as unsure about this as Jirou is, and yet she’s trying to press forward.

Jirou pushes through his body’s urge to “graduate” from virginity and rejects Akari’s advances, saying it’s only something you do with someone you love. Leaving aside that this is false, this results in Akari getting off him and saying they should stop this whole fake marriage thing.

That’s just what they do, and at the next month-end eval, Shiori sees that they’ve fallen to 75th place while she and Minami are up to 8th. She knows something’s wrong; Jirou knows it too, and knows that he erred. When he felt Akari’s cold trembling hand, he knew that he was wrong about her: what they were doing on that couch was just as new to her as it was to him.

Shiori invites Jirou onto the school roof to talk to him about things, and really does yeoman’s work as his trusty childhood friend, albeit by subordinating her own feelings. She promises him that no matter how much he screwed up with Akari, he can make things right.

Shiori’s pep talk is just what Jirou needs to break the awkwardness stalemate and give him the courage to knock on his fake wife’s door. To his shock, she not only answers but invites him into her uber-girly room, where he proceeds to apologize, but also provides a lot of real, honest talk.

He admits the obvious, that he’s fantasized about her, but also that it wasn’t like he didn’t want to do it with her, only that he wanted to do it with more care than the spur-the-moment scenario they found themselves in when she was discouraged about cooking for Minami.

He doesn’t go so far as to “out” Akari as just as much a virgin as she is, but he almost doesn’t have to, as hearing him come out and say all these things makes her face red as a beet and has her retreating into her bedsheet. But Jirou also asserts that he doesn’t like it when things are awkward between them.

Pulling back the sheet from her head like a bride’s vail, he declares that he wants them to be a married couple again. When he realizes he left out “for the practical” and stumbles all over his words, it evokes a hearty laugh from Akari, who attempts to save face by mocking him for being so desperate.

But she also ends up telling him—in just as disarmed a way as he just said all those embarrassing but true things—that she “likes him quite a lot”, even calling him by his first name. She laughs it off, but later on her balcony she covers her mouth with her hands in shock over having “said it.”

She says it in a way that could mean she’s been meaning to say it for a while. In any case, they’re giving this marriage another go, but this time they both have a deeper understanding of the kind of people the two of them actually are. That new understanding definitely has the potential to make them more attracted to one another as partners.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 02 – Hearing her out to the end

Jirou is having a lovely dream about Shiori visiting him in the night, only to be woken up by Akari wanting the same thing. Not so fast: she wants him to watch scary movies with her so they’ll earn points—while wearing matching PJs she’s comfortable enough to change into with him right there (with his back turned). When there’s a blackout, Jirou also learns Akari’s not great with storms or the dark.

Jirou may not learn here that Akari’s as inexperienced in love as he is, but her little vulnerabilities help bring her down to earth, as someone more approaching an equal to Jirou rather than someone to place on a pedestal and venerate (or resent her elite gyaru status). Between the close quarters and a sweet-smelling aromatherapy candle, a cozy chemistry emerges, with Jirou even admitting how cute Akari is and how hard she’s working, thinking she’s asleep when she’s not…and is very flattered!

As a result of spending the night together on the couch (avoiding the no-going-in-each-other’s-rooms rule) Jirou and Akari earn enough points to end up ranked 8th in their class. But both are shocked to find that Shiori and Minami are ranked 71st. If the other couple doesn’t make Rank A, all their efforts are for naught.

While Jirou can’t deny he’s a little happy things aren’t going well with Shiroi and Minami, as he friend he wants to help, but can’t broach the subject, and then he’s out with a cold. Shiori’s best friend Mei, who is either overprotective or has a crush on her herself (maybe both!) cheers Shiori up with her piano play and a willing ear.

Just as Jirou admits to be being a little hurt Akari went out with her friends instead of taking care of him, while also dreaming of Shiori taking care of him, it’s Shiori who is at the door with a bag of stuff to nurse him back to health.

Rather than an angel sent by heaven, Shiori was asked by Akari to look after Jirou, both knowing Jirou is in love with her and that, most likely, Shiori feels the same way. I’m not sure how premeditated this was for Akari, but this results in us getting almost the full measure of Jirou and Shiori’s history together.

Shiori still cherishes the day she was sick in elementary school and Jirou came and replaced her forehead compress, and relishes the opportunity to repay the favor. Jirou also watches intently as Shiori puts on an apron like a pro to whip up some rice porridge for him.

He’s worried this sudden wife-like attention will “give him the wrong idea”, but he’s had that ever since they parted ways when she had to transfer schools in middle school. Before he could summon the courage to confess to her, she asked him if they could remain friends despite the new geographic distance.

Jirou thought he was being friendzoned, so he canceled the confession, but he was mistaken. Just as he needed to make a great effort to even consider voicing his feelings for her, so too did Shiori, and those were the compromised words that came out at the wrong time. These two have loved each other all along, but that misunderstanding kept them from getting what they both wanted.

Now they’re “married” to separate people for this ridiculous school training, but Jirou’s cold afforded them the chance to live out what life might’ve been like if they had gotten their confessions for each other out into the open. It broke my heart when Shiori’s voice broke after she said, quite genuinely, that she thought it would be better if he were her husband. But my heart was re-forged when Jirou took her hand and, without thinking, called her “Shiori”, which causes her heart to similarly swell.

Shiori remembers that day just as much as Jirou does as a missed opportunity. Shiori was mere words from asking him on a date to see fireworks, but since he believed that would be as “just friends” he made an excuse to part ways right then and there. When Jirou called her “Shiori”, her mind went blank from happiness.

Not only that, when she’s sure he’s asleep, she leans in to steal a kiss…just as Akari’s galfriends are teasing her about the possibility of Shiori stealing Minami away. Shiori doesn’t kiss Jirou, but still prays that one day he’ll hear her out to the end. If only he did, he’d know that she wanted to be with him as much as he wanted to be with her.

The thing is, things are no longer so simple. Despite her haughty gal front and enduring crush on Minami, the fact is Jirou is the one with whom she’s experiencing all these new things. It’s gotten to the point that even when Jirou thanks her when she gets home for asking Shiori to come by, and resolves to work his hardest so she can be with Minami, she’s actually annoyed, despite herself.

Shiori isn’t going to be falling for Minami anytime soon. Maybe we’ll get Minami-centric episode at some point, but for now he’s simply a placeholder. Ironically, the harder Jirou and Akari work to make Rank A, the more good times they’ll have and the more they’ll learn about each other that overwrites their shallow first impressions of one another. By the time they’re offered the opportunity to exchange partners, who’s to say they’ll want to?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 01 (First Impressions) – Mismatch

Fuukoi, as it is also known, begins with the two female leads meeting at a shrine. The “plain” but cute Sakurazaka Shiori stumbles on the stairs and into the stylush gyaru Watanabe Akari, asking if she’s also there to pray for good luck with their forthcoming “marriage practical”.

What is a marriage practical, you say? An extremely weird and far-fetched means of the country trying to up its birth rate (?), I guess, and by far the weakest part of this debut episode. Male and female students are paired up and must live like a married couple in a Big Brother-style apartment, but are pointedly not allowed to sleep in the same bedroom. This system also apparently makes no accommodations for same-sex couples.

Our drab protagonist Yakuin Jirou, another weak point (never a good thing) wants to be paired with his childhood friend Shiori, while Akari wants to be paired with the equally stylish, blonde (and genuine Nice Guy) Tenjin Minami. So naturally, Jirou and Akari end up paired together, while his and Akari’s preferred matches end up paired up.

Neither Jirou nor Akari are happy about this, but it is what it is, but the good news is there’s a way to exchange partners: score enough points as a couple to make the A-Rank by the end of the month. Akari suggests they take the relationship lemons they’ve been given and make lemonade, but this is all A Lot for Jirou, considering the “love experience gap” between them.

Of course, Jirou’s wrong about this: Akari is just as chaste as he is, and all this as new to her as it is him. It’s too bad then, that she never tells him this to reduce the tension; call it pride and an unwillingness to admit they’re on the same level in that arena.

When Jirou goes to get them drinks and spots Shiroi with Minami, he gets even more depressed, but Akari tells him, and is right, that being mopey and indecisive won’t get him anywhere. They’ve got work to do scoring enough points to get the partners they want. So when Jirou’s annoying nerdy friend Sadaharu comes by to hang out, she asks for a goodbye kiss.

Caught between Akari and his insistent friend, Jirou kisses her without thinking … on the lips. It’s his kiss, but little does he know it’s also hers. The next day, Jirou wakes up on the couch, having apparently spent the night there (a little odd, considering I doubt he and Sadaharu got blackout drunk), and Akari urging him to get up and pull his weight.

A week passes, and Jirou and Akari make no progress. Shiroi and Minami, on the other hand, look like two peas in a pod, further frustrating and depressing Jirou. Their teacher asks him and Akari to come to the faculty office after school for a check-up. When Jirou tells Akari, she’s already off to karaoke with Minami, and tells him to do it solo.

He calls this his “worst day ever”, but Sadaharu says he’s got “a flower in each hand”—Shiroi the lily, Akari the rose. With no umbrella, he waits for the rain to subside, and then chance smile upon him when Shiori appears, having also forgotten hers.

As they talk, Shiori suddenly clutches him, because she thought she saw a bug (it was just a comical doodle of one). Turns out that’s why she clung to Minami earlier in the day—completely innocent, as expected. Shiori also objects to Jirou, her childhood friend, calling her “Sakurazaka” instead of her first name, which makes her feel lonely.

Jirou is taken aback by this, wondering if Shiori has the same feelings for him after all, but before he can say “Shiori” properly, Minami appears with her umbrella, and the two take off.

On the other side of the wall, Akari stands and waits a few beats, then approaches Jirou with an umbrella that they share on the walk home. She tells him how he struck out on trying to make something happen vis-a-vis Shiori. Indeed, by saying goodbye by calling her Sakurazaka, he actually left things worse off than they were before.

Yet again, it’s up to Akari to grab the mopey Jirou by the cheek and tell him to cheer up and focus his energy on the goal they agreed upon. It’s unfortunate Akari has to carry the mental load of her own issues while also trying to prop Jirou up. Dude needs to get his shit together because he’s quite unlikeable at the moment, whereas I like Akari a lot.

There’s another reason to like her when they come home, as she prepares perfect omurice for dinner, and even writes “love” on top in ketchup (while spouting quite a few double entendres). Jirou can’t deny it tastes amazing, and for once takes the initiative and offers to feed Akari with his spoon. After briefly hesitating, she takes the bite, leaving their faces oh-so-close together.

The moment is interrupted by a call form Sadaharu (silence your phone at dinner, dude!), for which Jirou is extremely relieved. But both their hearts are left pounding, which of course sets up the most likely endgame of shows like this with mismatched opposites gradually becoming closer and possibly eventually choosing one other over their original crushes.

The forced big brother scenario is dumb and troublesome to be sure, and Jirou needs a lot of work (obviously he’s supposed to be pathetic at this point) while, Akari has some great Kitagawa Marin vibes (albeit not nearly as honest with herself) and her and Shiori’s character designs are solid.

Aside from Akari, the main draw is the general look of the show: the scenery and colors are gorgeous and bold, making the darker rainy scenes feel that much more morose. It’s just so nice to look at, lacking the modeling or animation flaws of lesser productions.

ANN’s writers all hate this show, and I won’t argue with their reasons why. But for me, for now, the show’s pros are outweighing the cons. Sometimes you just need a bright, shiny, slightly horny show with a super-dumb premise. I had fun watching it.

Isekai Ojisan – 04 – A Pinch Is a Chance

In one of Takafumi’s memories from grade school, he’s bullied by some boys for reading an innocent fantasy LN, only to be bailed out by Fujimiya, who may still looks like a demon to lil’ Takafumi’s eyes, but he’s genuinely moved by her support. Present-day Fujimiya remains mortified that this is how Takafumi viewed her, especially as she became more girly in middle school.

But that was then and this is now, and Fujimiya has high hopes for her newly-rekindled relationship with Takafumi. When she learns he got cash from Ojisan for his birthday which he spent on a coffee grinder and some fancy beans, she decides to send him a “gift” of her own.

This comes in the form of a photo of her in a swimsuit from middle school, which while cute, even she realizes in hindsight might’ve been a questionable choice. But hey, watching your crush’s childhood memories in which you’re a loathsome devil spawn does weird things to the mind!

That said, Takafumi couldn’t be more tactless when his first instinct is to ask Siri how to delete the photo from SM, and then he gets an alert about a sale on coffee beans and once again leaves Fujimiya with his uncle. When he almost spills his coffee, he casts an ice spell that freezes her, then melts her with flame.

The result of all this is that Fujimiya is soaked and needs to take a shower to warm up. Ojisan leaves the apartment to give her her privacy, but Takafumi enters when she’s wearing one of his shirts and nothing else. Again, after watching a younger Takafumi portray her as a monster, seeing him react to seeing her inspires her to uses this “pinch” as a “chance”, in Ojisan’s words.

Unfortunately, Takafumi proves as dense about Fujimiya’s feelings and intentions as Ojisan is about Elf. He considers it shameful that he should feel this way about looking at a “good friend”, and when Ojisan arrives on full battle alert (due to Takafumi using the wrong flag signal) Takafumi asks him to delete his memories of seeing Fujimiya. Of course, Fujimiya stops the spell, and warns Takafumi she’ll dress like this again if he wipes his memory.

When Fujimiya turns twenty, she and Takafumi and Ojisan have a modest but warm celebration drinking their preferred choice of canned alcoholic beverages and watching more of Ojisan’s misromantic adventures with Elf. Elf is astonished he was able to restore the city barrier, and also recalls when Ojisan (or “Orc Face” as she calls him) saved her from a venom dragon.

After a bit more of their usual repartee, Uncle suddenly takes her by the hand and draws her to his side as they walk through the town market. Elf is shocked by this sudden bout of lovey-dovey behavior, but she can’t hide her enjoyment of it either. When it looks like he’s ready to take her up to his room, it isn’t until he gets his door open that it’s revealed he only needed someone to lean on.

He slams the door in her face, locks said door, and falls immediately asleep. The next morning Elf shows signs she cried herself to sleep. In short, Ojisan’s an unintentional villain, and Fujimiya must do everything in her power to keep Takafumi from turning out the same way.

In the present, Ojisan demonstrates how he can in no way hold his liquor, and then offers to take Fujimiya home via flight. Ojisan, Fujimiya, and Takafumi end up flying through the air upside down, with Ojisan merging the fantasy of the game he was playing with reality, and his nephew and his friend are simply along for the ride.

The end credits are cut short by an extra segment in which Ojisan once again gives Elf the wrong idea by sucking out poison that turns out to have aphrodisiac effects on Elf. When his doting closeness gets to be too much for her, she merely socks him in the face with a swift kick. Fujimiya asks Ojisan if he still has some of that poison so she might be able to use it on Takafumi…because a pinch is a chance!

Isekai Ojisan – 03 – The Things We Do for Views

Takafumi returns home to find Fujimiya and what looks like Elf from the other world where his Uncle lived. It’s definitely an effective hook, and then the episode rewinds an hour and change to a stark reality of YouTubers in February 2018: if you didn’t meet a certain subscriber and view quota, you’d be cut off from what had been a nice little revenue stream.

Takafumi discovers that one reason their channel is struggling is Ojisan’s tendency to type elaborate but ultimately awful replies to each and every commenter, many of whom are then put off and unsubscribe. This current dilemma reminds Ojisan of when the barrier of the Sealed City fell and 1,000 beasts arrived at the walls.

Naturally, his nephew wants to see and hear about this, so Ojisan switches on the ol’ memory recorder and plays back the events of those days. Notable is how pretty much everything Elf says to him could come across as verbal harassment (rather than the tsundere flirting it is).

When Ojisan nonchalantly shatters the barrier and the beasts arrive, Elf is resolved to fight them all herself while he runs—she likes him that much. But after a serously badass weapon unsheathing sequence and blasting herself towards the walls like a missile, she ends up splatting on the newly-formed barrier, the result of Ojisan asking the spirits to repair it.

No matter; Elf doesn’t tell any of the townsfolk that he dropped the barrier to begin with, and in exchange simply asks him to buy her dinner. But Ojisan, who always interprets her words and body language the wrong way, instead leaves the city without her.

Takafumi hugs himself in despair, and this is what Fujimiya sees when she arrives, trying to make a habit of being around her old friend. The thing is, Takafumi remains disturbingly oblivious to her affections, and even leaves her alone in his apartment to take care of some random errand.

Ojisan may not have much real-world romantic experience, but he can tell Fujimiya’s a good girl and she wants to be closer to his nephew. Unfortunately, Fujimiya does not want to talk to some frumpy uncle about this, so Ojisan borrows Elf’s appearance and voice and insists he’s Takafumi’s “aunt” so they can engage in girl talk. That brings us back to the cold open.

In order to get to the bottom of why Takafumi stubbornly only thinks of Fujimiya as a friend, he taps into his memories and then visualizes them. in them, a cretinous child mercilessly beats upon a helpless young Takafumi. Fujimiya asks where she is…and then it dawns on her: she’s the cretin. Form her perspective back then they enjoyed a “bittersweet” relationship, but just like Ojisan with Elf, Takafumi saw it more as bullying and abuse.

Elf!Ojisan marvels at how his nephew even managed to recognize a grown-up Fujimiya on the street, but Takafumi says he’d never forget her, and holds up a fist for her to bump while blushing profusely. Takafumi then decides that he and Ojisan should record a video of “her” playing Guardian Heroes.

Ojisan is naturally psyched…until he sees the final product: the video doesn’t show any of the actual gameplay—just Ojisan in the form of a sexy elf girl in a long hoodie playing off-screen video games. Ojisan is shocked and appalled, but the video goes viral, with 200,000 views and counting. Takafumi celebrates the great success of his hunch, while Ojisan reverts to his normal appearance before a terrified Fujimiya. I could honestly watch this offbeat, eccentric dynamic packed with amazing reaction faces all day!

Isekai Ojisan – 02 – Neon Genesis Osananajimi

Ojisan’s Youtube views are dropping, so he institutes austerity measures in the home budget—though only after he orders a copy of a video game magazine listing the final results of Sega Saturn reader’s choice. He learns that one of his favorite games, Guardian Heroes, was only ranked 197th. I never played that, but I did play the heck out of a Genesis game by Treasure called Gunstar Heroes, which was immensely fun.

After summoning lighting to sufficiently punctuate his moment of shock despair, Takafumi gets him to stop talking about video games and show him another recorded memory from his time in the isekai. When the village elder shows him to the Frost Clan member Mabel, who goes ahead and tells Ojisan what’s needed to unfreeze her heart, only for Ojisan to ignore all that and defeat the dragon without her Frost Sword.

First Takafumi’s uncle misinterpreted elf’s tsundere behavior as shit-talking, then he totally circumvents the other world’s “quest”. Those blunders aside, Takafumi still thinks enough of his uncle to give him a Sega Saturn for his birthday, which they play to ring in the year 2018.

Ojisan also shows Takafumi how the other world celebrated the new year, only for him to simply eat some chicken by himself and retire to his room. When he mentions Mabel visited in his room later that night, Takafumi switches off the Saturn and demands to hear more.

Turns out Ojisan convinced Mabel that her ennui and reclusive behavior were simply living her truth, and that there was nothing wrong with that, and she should go on doing it if that’s what she wanted. It is, and she does, which even Takafumi can tell is both teaching and learning the wrong lesson!

When Fujimiya Sumika first encounters Ojisan, she assumes he’s a rambling old weirdo and commits to walking a different route. However, it’s thanks to this route that she’s unexpectedly reunited with her childhood friend Takafumi, who has since grown taller than her. Sumika, who we see was once very attached to Takafumi when they were kids, is clearly jazzed to see him again.

She accepts his invitation to stop by his house, which she does after dropping off her groceries, only for the same weird old man she saw in the park to come in through the balcony sliding door. Ojisan initially treats Sumika as an enemy and tries to wipe her memory, but Takafumi intervenes, resulting in quite a bit of physical contact.

Sumika shakes off the attempted assault, but immediately takes the stand that Takafumi shouldn’t be letting his old uncle mooch off of him. When Takafumi confirms that his Ojisan actually does have magic powers he gained in another world, Sumika says what we’d all say: “So show me.”

It doesn’t take long even for someone like Ojisan to pick up on Sumika’s attraction to Takafumi, though she may deny it, leading him to bring up Evangelion, in which Asuka was a famous early example of the tsundere archetype (something Oji has yet to catch on to when it comes to Elf).

Sumika is actually moved by Ojisan’s sad tale that is actually ripped directly from the Saturn game Alien Soldier, at which point Sumika is fed up with having her emotions toyed with. Then Ojisan reads her mind, revealing she showered and changed before coming to Takafumi’s, and was disappointed to learn he had a roommate.

But while she’s disappointed, she also seems to still like Takafumi enough that she’s not going to stand by and do nothing while Takafumi is leeched on by a layabout charlatan. As with Elf and Mabel, I love Sumika’s dynamic character design. She’s cute, but still the tough kid she was when she first fell for Takafumi. It’s a shame Takafumi is 100% oblivious to her long-standing crush, but she and Mabel are fine additions to this colorful cast.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Call of the Night – 03 – Night Fight

While I could absolutely keep watching just Kou, Nazuna, and the night for ten or eleven more episodes, the introduction of Asai Akira doesn’t ruin the vibes. In fact, she brings a unique dynamic: Kou’s only human friend, something he didn’t think he had in her. When he placed the blue watch on the mailboxes, he didn’t mean to place it right above Akira’s, but that’s how she took it.

When Kou was an aloof kid off on his own in the playground, only Akira went to him to see what he was up to. When he said he was fine not joining the others, she joined him instead, and declared them friends. He didn’t object, but he probably forgot that exchange that Akira dutifully maintained. She still considers him a friend, and is glad he’s doing okay.

So Kou begins leaving ever-so-early from his nightly visits to Nazuna’s for some bed-lying and blood-sucking so he can meet up with Akira (who is an early bird to his night owl). Nazuna jokes that he’s going off to see another woman, and immediately senses from his expression that she’d accidentally nailed it. That said, Kou admits in voiceover that he and Akira don’t do much other than exchange inoffensive small talk.

On one such occasion in the park, he asks if Akira is having fun. She puts the question to him, and he says he isn’t not having fun, so she replies that she is. Just as Kou, extremely inexperienced in such things, starts wondering if Akira likes him, Nazuna menacingly emerges from the shadows only to give Kou a friendly pat on the shoulder and congratulate him for doing “hanky-panky”.

She tells Akira her and Kou’s relationship is “purely physical”, and while Akira’s mention of romance (upon hearing Kou call her “Nazuna-chan) once again makes Nazuna blush, she shakes that off by basically marking her territory, sucking Kou’s neck right in front of Akira and announcing she’s a vampire.

At a 24-hour café, the three sit, and Akira tries to grasp the situation. She asks Kou if he’s skipping out on school because of Nazuna. While she may kind of be the reason now, she wasn’t the original reason, which was that he simply couldn’t be bothered with it anymore. Akira feels the same way, especially with Kou gone, but didn’t ditch because she thought she had to go.

She thinks she’d have more fun if Kou were around, so she asks him to come back to school. When Kou doesn’t immediately refuse and seems to hesitate, Nazuna seemingly gets miffed and suddenly splits. Kou follows after her, asking if she’s angry and why, but Nazuna doesn’t feel like spilling it out, and is clearly still mad, so she flips him off and does her vampire warpspeed thing. Kou looks for her all night, without success.

Finally, in that magical in-between time just before sunrise, Kou falls on his face while climbing some stairs, then uses his receiver watch to call Nazuna. She responds, and he proceeds to tell her that while he doesn’t really “get” fights like the one they’re apparently in, but he wants to make up with her. With that, Nazuna suddenly appears, and is once again as honest with him as he was with her, saying she was “ticked off” by him hesitating after Akira asked him to come back to school.

Turns out she misunderstood; Kou hesitated because he wasn’t sure how to tell a human friend that couldn’t go back to school because he wanted to become a vampire. With that cleared up and the two well and truly made up, Nazuna notices the blood from Kou’s tumble, and proceeds to kiss him in order to drink it, remarking that “a lot came out”. She liked how he said human friend, and that it suggested he had a vampire friend too. Kou may not know this since she’s his first, but vampire friends do kiss.

The Rising of the Shield Hero S2 – 11 – It’s Kyou Ethnina’s World, We’re Just Living In It

The Shield Hero Gang is finally reunited, only with Filo sporting a steep decline in attack power due to her change of species and Raphtalia donning an adorable miko outfit. Kizuna also reunites with her comrades L’Arc, Therese, and Glass for the first time in years.

The warm feelings of those reunions are chilled somewhat by the sight of Kazuki, whose two improbably loyal and devoted aides are trying to stich him back together. Unfortunately, he jumps the gun and his top half ends up separated from his bottom half, hopefully fatally.

Oh, and Kyou Ethnina also has an improbably loyal and devoted aide? A samurai girl who is going to kill his enemies? (Throws hands up) Ok, Shield Hero, why not?!

Glass is so happy and relieved to see Kizuna she doesn’t want to stop hugging her, even if Kizuna finds it hard to breath; it’s Peak Endearing Glass, though you could argue she had a lot more edge when she was a baddie. The group ends up in Sikul Castle, where we learn…L’Arc is the young king of Sikul. The hits keep coming!

Naofumi, Kizuna, and their super-sized mega-party are determined to kick Kyou’s ass, but they need equipment. Kizuna hits up her longtime midriff-bearing blacksmith Ramona and gives her the unenviable task of doing a week’s worth of work in a night’s time.

After placing the order, the group is suddenly ambushed by Kyou’s samurai aide, who is determined to end all of them, scolds them for outnumbering her, and bears a creepy sword with an eyeball.

Needless to say, while she has no shortage of spirit, the girl is no match for the combined power of Naofumi and Kizuna’s parties, and when she’s disarmed, the sword takes on a mind of its own, restrains her with tendrils, and seemingly sucks up her energy.

Therese, L’Arc, Kizuna, Naofumi, and Glass all work together to separate the sword from the girl and send it high up into the sky, where it self-destructs, taking with it the girl’s undying loyalty for the guy who almost blew her the ef up!

Her name is Yomogi, and as befits a hero who cannot kill another person, Kizuna decides to take her to her party’s home and headquarters, where she herself hasn’t been in years. Naofumi protests such light treatment of an ally of Kyou, but doesn’t stop Kizuna from doing things her way.

Sending everyone else away to prepare for the fight with Kyou, Kizuna removes Yomogi’s restraints, asks her to sit down and relax, and serves her tea. In exchange, she learns that Yomogi and Kyou are childhood friends, that he was always a little off, but apparently in a less evil way at first, such that even someone with a rock for a brain like Yomogi was drawn to the knowledge he possessed and dispensed.

However, in the midst of her discussion of her childhood friend, Yomogi concludes that if Kyou has indeed gone off the deep end behind her back, then she’ll help stop him, while also sharing in whatever punishment is chosen for him, even death. While I doubt Kizuna will take her up on that, I’m sure she’s happy for another strong fighter on her side.

Alas, the next day when the mega-party picks up their completed equipment from Ramona’s, Kyou’s big scheme kicks into gear. The countdown rapidly drops to zero, Waves of Catastrophe appear in the skies, and Naofumi and Kiuna’s parties are separated via warping.

Whatever semblance of positive feelings Yomogi might’ve had for her childhood friend are dissolved in the midst of this spectacle. All this time she thought he was occasionally going a little too far in order to stop the waves, but his actual goal was to summon them. Dude’s gotta go!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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