Higehiro – 01 (First Impressions) – Inadvertent Guardian

Yoshida had the evening with his attractive co-worker Gotou all planned out in his head. They’d have a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant, and if things went well, he’d ask if she wanted to come home with him. He hadn’t banked on the possibility Gotou was already seeing someone for years, and simply never mentioned it at work because she wanted to keep life and work separate—which is perfectly reasonable.

Thus rejected, Yoshida goes and gets drunk with a friend until that friend has to head back home to his wife. Yoshida blabbers about how Gotou “tricked” him, and stole his heart and won’t give it back, but I’ll forgive his attitude as he’s allowed to wallow in defeat, drunk and horny as he is. The bottom line is Yoshida didn’t want to look past sleeping Gotou, and now he’s a little lost at sea.

He most certainly didn’t plan to encounter a runaway teenage girl (voiced by Ichinose Kana) outside his apartment, nor for this girl to offer to let him sleep with her in exchange for a roof over her head for the night. But even when her other options are seemingly ruled out, Yoshida makes it quite clear that he’s not sleeping with a “little kid”, nor is he prepared to leave her to the tender mercies of the night.

So, in his drunk and staggering state, he invites her in, then collapses into his bed to pass out. The girl, no stranger to crashing at men’s houses in exchange for sex (though she is thankfully not shamed for this), sits on the bed and asks matter-of-factly “Hey, are you sure you don’t want to do me?” He’s sure. When asked if there’s anything else he wants, before passing out he mumbles “miso soup.” The next morning, that’s what he gets: miso soup, made by the girl he flat-out forgot he invited in last night!

When he hears how he rejected her offer of sex, he salutes his last-night self, relieved nothing sordid happened. She also mentions how he mumbled about being rejected by someone named Gotou, and whether he wanted her to make him “feel better”. Once again, he declines, saying he’s not so far-gone he needs “a tiny little teenage girl” to do that.

When she points out that her breasts are quite big and asks “aren’t F-cups you can touch better than H-cups you can’t?” he flat-out asks why she’s trying to seduce him…and if she even wants to sleep with him. She says she doesn’t, but then embraces him and says she’s never met a man willing to let her stay for nothing in return, so maybe he’s the “abnormal” one. That’s when Yoshida, God bless him, asks for her ID, a gesture that again makes clear he’s not interested in her in that way.

He learns her name is Ogiwara Sayu, that she ran away from high school in Hokkaido six months ago. When he tells her to go home already, she says she’s sure they’re happy she’s gone, Ichinose Kana’s voice breaking ever-so-slightly. The more Yoshida thinks about Sayu, the worse he feels about it. He takes it out on her to a degree by calling her “stupid”, “dumb as a rock”, and “a spoiled brat”.

But beneath those harsh barbs, he understands that Sayu is not “fine” as she says in the slightest; that what she’s had to do to survive since leaving home is not right or okay. More than she’s an idiot, she’s a victim: both of a home that she felt she had to leave, and to a world apparently full of men who taught her all the wrong lessons and twisted values and standards. He’s also angry that such a kind and sweet young woman couldn’t have a “normal life” and a “normal love”.

Obviously, Yoshida’s positions are showing both his privilege and paternalism. The former was a result of his own upbringing and life experience; the latter was learned through both, just as Sayu learned a certain way of living the last six months. But I can forgive the motives behind his fundamentally principled choice to stop this child from being harmed anymore by offering her a safe, clean place to stay.

I’m not going to pretend that in the real world this isn’t his choice to make. As a matter of law, he should probably go to the police, right? And yet who’s to say Sayu wouldn’t be harmed anyway if he took that route? Considering what she’s been doing to stay away from her home, it’s clear going back there isn’t what’s best for her. Being placed into an overworked and uncaring social services system also wouldn’t be much better.

The fact there are no easy answers or cut-and-dried solutions add a lot of welcome emotional heft to the whole scenario. Yoshida, whom I mentioned is somewhat lost at sea, has encountered a fellow castaway adrift and rudderless, who has the added disadvantage of being far too young to have to endure the waves. So for now, he decides to lash their ramshackle rafts together and chart the course of least harm.

The more time he spends with Sayu, the more disappointed in his fellow man he becomes. When he heads out to the patio to smoke, she calls him “nice”, but our boy Yoshida is not so deluded to think he’s some saint, and makes it clear to her in perhaps his best line of the episode: “Listen up! I’m not nice. They were shit.” He contemplates the environment that put Sayu in such an unfairly precarious situation, and even implicates himself for “letting her stay spoiled” by giving her a place to run to.

But even as he checks headlines about an unrelated case of a man arrested for kidnapping a teenager, and Sayu walks over him, inadvertently giving him a look up her skirt, Yoshida isn’t about to cut the ropes of her raft free. He found her on those waves, which means he feels responsible for her well-being. That doesn’t just mean a roof under her head, but more appropriate clothes, pajamas, and a futon to sleep on.

Sayu isn’t ready to accept all this without worrying about not being able to repay him in some way. Yoshida is again disheartened by the fact a kid has to think that way, but indulges her by insisting that the cooking and cleaning she’s done constitute more than adequate payment, and that arrangement will serve for the time being.

The next morning over breakfast, Yoshida explains to Sayu that it isn’t the act of shaving that makes him feel old, but becoming too lazy to shave every day. Sayu spares no tact in saying he doesn’t look good with stubble, so he decides to shave after all. The exchange indicates this won’t be a one-way street. Perhaps in helping keep this lonely damaged girl safe, Yoshida can find a new course in life post-Gotou rejection.

Higehiro is fraught with potential problems, as all series involving an adult and a child always are. And yet unlike the horrifically skeevy KoikimoHigehiro presents its situation, questions and arguments in good faith, and from a place of human decency and empathy. It’s a compelling, hopeful tale of an imperfect person trying to do the right thing for someone who has already been wronged far too much. Unlike Koikimo, I don’t feel like I need a shower after what I saw, but rather want to see what happens next!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Journey of Elaina – 01 (First Impressions) – The Ashen Witch is Born

Ever since she was wee, Elaina (Hondo Kaede, recently Bofuri’s Maple) dreamed of traveling the world like Nikeh, a great witch who recorded her adventures in a diary. Her parents, the supportive type, told her she could do it if she studied hard to become a witch. She did just that, not only passing the sorcery examination with flying colors, but being the youngest ever to do so at age 14.

Elaina’s next hurdle to becoming a witch would be to train under one as their apprentice, but due to her fame as the youngest ever, she has the door of every witch in the city slammed in her face before she can even state her case. Then she overhears a “dodgy” witch having taken residence in the forest outside the city, and flies over to take a look.

Flan, Stardust Witch (Hanazawa Kana, who is having a ball) agrees to take Elaina on as an apprentice, but like Mr. Miyagi with Daniel-san, it doesn’t seem she has any actual interest in training her, just using her as her own personal assistant. Cooking her meals, collecting ingredients, dealing with spiders in the tub and rubbing her shoulders; this is all Elaina gets to do.

After a month of this, Elaina has had enough, and asks if Flan is at last ready to train her. Flan tells her she has “nothing in particular” to teach her, but she will have Elaina fight her. Flan’s awesome mastery of the elements proves too much, as Elaina can only bob and weave against an onslaught of fire, earth and lightning. This fight was also the point at which I was utterly and completely sold on the show; its fantastic magical combat!

Totally defeated for perhaps the first time in her life, Elaina collapses into a heap and starts to bawl uncontrollably, catching Flan, clearly not used to dealing with teenage witches, tries to cheer her up with butterflies and a crown made of weeds, but settles on a hug, which proves most effective.

Flan also confesses to Elaina that her parents paid her to teach her about setback and failure until she reached her limit. Elaina has the skill, talent, and potential, but needed to learn not to deal with or endure everything no matter what, just because she can.

With that catharsis, and Flan’s strategy revealed, the training continues in earnest. Over the period of a year Flan teaches Elaina everything she knows, and Elaina soaks it all up like a sponge. But unlike her first month, she speaks up if something displeases her. Eventually, she’s good enough to best Flan in a duel for the first time, and that’s when Flan knows she’s ready.

Replacing her apprentice’s flower badge with the star brooch, Flan bestows upon her the status of a full-fledged witch. On Flan’s suggestion, Elaina picks the magical name “the Ashen Witch” due to her hair color. Fran then bids Elaina farewell and returns to her home country, and Elaina returns home.

She’s not there long, as now she’s achieved the requisite of being able to travel the world freely like Nikeh. Her parents keep their word, giving Elaina three simple rules to follow: When in serious danger, run; don’t come to think she’s a “special human”; and come home someday with a smile.

She’s outfitted in new witch’s robes, a kickass oversized hat (along with a spare—it’s windy out there!), and of course, a handsome diary in which to write about her adventures. With that, she says goodbye to the only home she’s ever known, without a particular plan or destination, and journeys in that fashion for three years, finally reaching the age of eighteen.

I for one am glad we got Elaina’s “origin story” at the most logical part of the anime: the beginning. It’s a story beautifully and efficiently told, and delivered the same kind of fuzzy feels as goodhearted witch series like Kiki, Flying Witch, and Little Witch Academia. I can’t wait to see where Elaina ends up landing next week!

Rating: 4.5/5

Crow is also watching the Wandering Witch, and always has great observations about the episodes’ best moments. Read Crow’s review here.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 58 – Within the Bubble

Whether you consider it testing Sakura or just plain fucking with her, Eriol keeps up his little secret game this week. Sakura, Syaoran, Tomoyo, Kerberus and Yue all show up at Penguin Park when Clow’s presence is felt, but they can’t find anything out of the ordinary and it starts to rain, they all go home.

Eriol’s “trial-of-the-week” this time involves blocking either Kerberos or Yue from transforming back into their disguises. While nobody is in any immediate danger, it’s certainly a hassle to have to hide them from those she believes not to be in the know (namely Touya). More distressing to her is the prospect of Yue never being able to become Yukito again, as she considers them two distinct people she cares about in equal measure.

But again, this isn’t a particularly pressing matter except insomuch as it will be tough to keep what is essentially a winged lion and cultish-looking winged dude in her room indefinitely. So she tries to catch some shuteye, hopeful the guardians be able to change back the next morning. Alas, the situation doesn’t change, and on top of it all Sakura has a Sunday full of house chores to perform.

She puts Kerberos to work doing what he can with his beefy paws; he’s ironically far more useful in a house in his plushie form! When he gets fed up with Yue simply standing around not helping (and Sakura not insisting he help, thus spoiling him just like Clow used to), Kerberos prepares to toss a bag of flour at him, only to himself become covered with it. Sakura takes him into the bath and he suggests she convert and use Bubble to wash him, as Clow once did.

Upon returning to the kitchen, Sakura finds that Yue has helped out after all by cleaning up the flour mess. She broaches the topic of Clow and Yue’s particular devotion to him, noting the look in his eyes when he speaks about him is similar to how her dad looks when talking about her mom.

Suddenly it dawns on Sakura to convert and use the Shield card on her guardians. Eriol’s magic is repelled by the shield, enabling them to finally change back to their disguises. And since Yukito is at Sakura’s house, he might as well stay for dinner!

All’s well that ends well, but Kero-chan is thoroughly unnerved about the possibility of someone with Clow’s power out there unchecked. Whether it’s Kero, Yue, Syaoran, or Sakura, I’m certain someone will manage to connect the strange incidents and Eriol…but with twelve episodes left, a few more trials are likely…in the cards.

Oregairu 3 – 01 – Robot Tears

In the park, in the gentle snow, Yukino submits her request to Hachiman and Yui, a request non-readers have been waiting to hear for five years. When Haruno once asked her if she even has a “self”, Yukino pondered an answer and found the results disheartening. She wants to find that self, a self that isn’t following in the footsteps of Haruno or her mother.

While she’s enjoyed faux independence to this point, now she seeks the real thing, even when it means moving back home. Her request, then, is for Hachiman and Yui to support her in her efforts. They accept, walk with Yukino back home, and encounter a tipsy Haruno. Yukino wastes no time getting things moving, telling her big sis they need to talk.

The next morning, Hachiman stows Yui’s much-improved cookies in his desk and greets Komachi, who has already made him breakfast and is preparing for a strenuous day of interviews for entering high school. Their semi-antagonistic banter may feel a tad performative to an outsider new to their interactions, but that’s mitigated by the fact the banter flows so organically and is studded with moments of genuine sibling affection.

While waiting for Komachi to meet up with him for some shopping, Hachiman runs into Kawasaki Saki and her own imouto, Keika, who’s a lot younger than Komachi. Saki remarks how Hachiman is so used to spoiling his little sister, he’s totally unaware he’s doing the same to hers. Then again, at a time when Komachi is growing up fast—entering high school, ye gods!Hachiman is happy to pamper a little sister without pushback.

Hachiman brings up Saki’s brother Komachi shows up, elated and hyper, then when Komachi arrives, Saki observes more of their brother-sister banter. Considering her extreme reaction to Hachiman’s offhand “I love you” during the cultural festival, and her reactions to Hachiman here, I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s developed a teensy little thing for him.

From there, Hachiman and Komachi go on a multi-vector shopping trip, though Komachi earlier remarked that any attempt by her bro to call it a date was “creepy”. Still, the two clearly have a ton of fun flitting from one place to another, culminating in buying groceries for dinner, which Komachi prepares after doing all of the house chores without Hachiman’s help.

These are all efforts by Komachi to make up for slipping in her chore duties during her high school entrance prep. Hachiman never made a big deal out of any of it, but the fact Komachi wants to make it up to him, and he doesn’t resist, says a lot about how much their relationship has improved even as the two go through such major changes in their lives. She then kneels, bows, and formally thanks her brother for taking care of her to this point; she’s to a large degree the person she is thanks to his care and love.

Like Yukino, Komachi doesn’t want to be pampered and spoiled forever as she ends up following a pre-determined path. The two women seek to strike out and prove to themselves they’re capable enough stand on their own and choose their own road to travel, while still accepting moral and practical support from their family and friends.

Hachiman can’t help but tear up over Komachi’s mature display. Rewarding days, months and years lie ahead as Komachi will continue to make him proud…but his days of wiping chocolate from her face are over.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 04 – Into the Woods

Sakura is super-hyped about a Sunday picnic with Tomoyo, but that particular bubble is burst when Touya reminds her that she has to do all of the house chores on Sunday, as a result of switching days with him earlier. Still, after calling to postpone (and Tomoyo’s sumptuous basket lunch is already prepared, *sniff*!) Sakura rolls her sleeves up and gets to it, briefly transforming into Housecleaner Sakura and enlisting Kero for laundry duty.

While she first discovered the Clow Cards in the basement, up until this point none had started anything in her house. That changes when in the process of cleaning she finds not one but two cards, one of them smudged with ink. When her dad calls her to come to the bus stop to bring him a file he forgot, she leaves the cards alone briefly without writing her name on them, but that’s long enough for the woody mischief to begin!

After hearing ominous groaning sounds, Sakura opens the basement door to find a gigantic tree has sprouted. She releases her staff and seals the card, but it soon returns with a vengeance, since the card itself is still in the basement with a second card. As Tomoyo arrives to help (but mostly to dress Sakura up and film her) the tree re-sprouts with a vengeance, threatening to destroy the house…something Sakura can’t allow to happen.

Donning a super-cool pink pop costume complete with winged headband and moon boots, Sakura braves the labyrinth of branches until she reaches the basement and locates the source of all the trouble. According to Kero-chan, The Wood is a very gentle card, but the second card, Rainy, is basically The Wood’s rowdy enabling friend, raining on the tree and spurring its growth. In order to calm The Wood down, Rainy must be dealt with.

Sakura ends up fighting water with water, summoning Watery to create a feedback loop of water and rain and eventually restraining and sealing the mischievous Rainy. With the catalyst for growth gone, Kero urges patience, and after a moment the branches withdraw, leaving the structure house rather implausibly intact (though Kero said it was gentle; in this case extremely so!)

Still, the aftermath leaves the house a horrendous mess, but have no fear: Tomoyo volunteers to help Sakura and Kero set everything right, and by the time Touya and her dad come home the place is sparkling once more. The first of likely many “stay-at-home” episodes, we got a glimpse of life in the Kinomoto residence, where every family member in. We also witness Kero-chan’s lifeless “Plushie Mode” for the first time!