The Duke of Death and His Maid – 09 – Secondborns Roasting on an Open Fire

It’s Christmas, and for the first time, Bocchan is going to host a party. Caph and Zain are coming, and so is Viola with the gift of a handkerchief for Rob. When their mom insists that Viola spend Christmas with “family” she does just that: by spending it with her dear brother. Strangely enough, Walter ends up doing so as well, as he replaces Viola’s driver in order to get a better idea of who he’s dealing with in Bocchan.

Zain ends up finally telling Caph she’s pretty while she’s apparently napping, but she was actually awake and heard his words. In her haste to see Rob, Viola drops her gift, which is picked up by Walter, who then finds a Santa costume in the hall and puts it on just as Caph crosses paths with him. Since Caph still believes in Santa she assumes the gift is for her.

As Caph and Viola bicker over the gift, Walter comes down the chimney in a cloud of soot and issues a challenge his older brother: the first one to discover the secret of the curse will become the new head of the family. As for their mother, well, she gets to eat dinner alone, because she’s an awful bitch who tried and failed to ruin at least two of her three kids!

As the new prologue to episodes states, Bocchan is never lonely, ever since he decided not to give up, and to instead spend his days together with Alice, whom he loves and who loves him in return. Alice very much wants a kiss under the mistletoe, and part of me thought this was the moment they learned the curse didn’t affect her…but she settles for sharing the “coldness” of the snow by lying down next to Bocchan after he trips and falls.

It’s a pleasant if somewhat static episode. I couldn’t care less about Walter and his challenge, but it was sweet to see Zain and Caph’s relationship take a baby step forward. As for the curse, there’s still three episodes to break it. Better get cracking, Bocchan!

Horimiya – 12 – The Mantis

This week it’s Christmas in Horimiyaland, and everyone is figuring out how—and with whom—they want to spend their holiday. It’s just too perfect that Yuki fell in love with Tooru having absolutely no clue that the boy’s family was freakin’ loaded. Money can’t buy you love! If anything, it intimidates a girl of more modest means like Yuki.

At a time when everyone needs Christmas cake, Izumi is scheduled to work through the holidays at the bakery, meaning he won’t be able to join Kyouko and her family. While she’s understanding—her boy’s fam gotta earn, nothing you can do about it—her dad, mom, and Souta are less forgiving. Never mind if it’s Kyouko’s the one technically dating him. They want Izumi!

Shuu and Sengoku were both convinced Tooru and Yuki were already an item, but by saying he only “recently” harbored a crush on Kyouko, Tooru he reveals he’s still in a transitory place: not yet far enough removed from the pain of not having those feelings returned, and thus not quite ready to look for love elsewhere. Compounding matters is that he likely considers Yuki his best mates.

Why else would he so helplessly waver when she asks if she can come to his place to play video games? Or sneak in the house like something elicit is afoot? Or so determined to keep the family’s statuesque personal assistant Yashiro’s nose out of his business? Like his other friends, Tooru likely doesn’t want Yashiro or his family to get the wrong idea in the present—even if it may well turn out to be the right idea in the future.

After they both calm down after tea and cake (from Izumi’s bakery!) and fire up the video games, Tooru lets slip that he’s “happy with the way things are.” And honestly, I really don’t see Yuki disagreeing with that. As they watch that loading screen, they both seem content and comfortable. No need to rush things.

There’s a bit of drama at school when Sengoku doesn’t immediately agree to spend Christmas with Remi at Remi’s, and for a very bizarre reason: her dad is into catching bugs and putting them in boxes. When it’s trifling things like this that come between lovers, you know it’s true love. Sengoku simply has to grow a pair. The bugs are DEAD, dude!

When Kyouko shows her parents her superlative marks (all A’s save gym and art…kinda the opposite of me!) her mom remarks how there will only be one more report card, and then she’ll graduate. As her parents bicker and Souta asks her to look at his marks, Kyouko gets lost in thought: What will her life be like after graduation?

But before that, it’s Christmas, and the episode doesn’t want to leave anyone out as it checks in on just about everyone, starting with a contact-wearing Yanagi and Yuki’s big sister, who have a cute little exchange by a big outdoor Christmas tree. Tanihara and his brother wrestle over a clear view of the TV.

In what is a promising development, Yuki and Tooru are hanging out together for Christmas. I’m rooting for you two tentative bastards….take all the time you need!

Motoko is studying hard even the night before Christmas, but Shuu makes sure she takes a fried chicken and cake break. Sakura urges Sengoku to stop being a goddamn wimp and go hang out with his adorable girlfriend on one of (if not the) most important nights for couples both potential and extant. On the latter front, Shindou asks his girlfriend to wait one more year for him to graduate, and she agrees.

The entire Hori residence—including Souta’s cute friend Yura—is united in their elation when Izumi stops by to drop off their cake. When he says he can’t stay, Kyouko is again understanding, but her family won’t let him leave without a hot drink, eventually stealing a whole hour of his shift at the bakery.

When they finally allow him to leave, Kyouko walks him home, despite not being dressed for the chilly night; she’s in slippers, for goodness sake! But there’s something she wants to say to Izumi, and mercifully it’s not to ask him to berate or hit her; that particular pothole on their relationship road seems to have smoothed out off-camera…and that’s fine.

No, Kyouko tells him the same thing he told her back when they first started going out: she still doesn’t know very much about him. But due in part to that and other factors, she wants to be with him even after they graduate. Izumi goes quite a few steps beyond agreeing, and proposes marriage! Whoa, boy! Immediately embarrassed by blurting out what is surely deep-seated but still premature desire, he shuffles off.

But Kyouko promises she’ll “make him happy”, something Izumi says is usually what the guy is supposed to say in such a situation—which ironically is the kind of cisnormative comment you’d expect from Kyouko! She insists she should be the one to say it, as she admits she’s self-centered and “only good at studying and chores” though she’s selling herself short.

These two lovable dorks then bow to each other, expressing how they’re looking forward to their future together. All I can really say to that is BAAAAAWWWW.

After the credits, we fast-forward to New Year’s, which Kyouko and Izumi are spending together at a festival. They get their fortunes, but they hardly matter, since they both agree that as long as the other person is smiling, it’s all gravy. They grab some amazake and reflect how they were the last people they saw at the end of the previous year and the first people they saw at the beginning of the new one.

Izumi wants every year to be like that. Izumi walks Kyouko home hand-in-hand, assuring her that they can and will indeed be together forever. And damnit, I believe him. And like them, I’m happy just seeing the two smiling together, shrugging off the anxiety around what would happen after high school, laying out their future, and sharing in the warmth, relief, and elation of knowing graduation will only be the end of their beginning.

Yuru Camp△ – 12 (Fin) – Campvengers: Tentgame

The final episode of Yuru Camp’s first season ends somewhat confusingly with flash-forward that starts exactly how the previous episode ended: with Rin on a bike. Only this time instead of a moped it’s a motorcycle (possibly her grandpa’s), and ten years have passed. Rin meets up with Chiaki, Aoi, and Ena at Asagiri campground, which has presumably become a Christmas tradition ever since the first time.

It’s mentioned that Nadeshiko founded a camping equipment company that really took off, and just when I’m expecting her to arrive by helicopter, she arrives instead by rocket-powered tent instead—like the one in the OP! Turns out Nadeshiko of the present is merely musing about what the future might hold. Then Rin returns with the gas, ginger, and no alcohol for Toba-sensei, and she’s welcomed home.

While Aoi, Ena, and Chiaki take their baths first, Rin and Nadeshiko wonder why Toba-sensei isn’t with her boyfriend for Christmas, referring to the capable young lad who helped them start their fire on Lake Shibire. Turns out that wasn’t her boyfriend or her brother, but her kid sister, who is often mistaken for a boy. Their father instilled in them a love of camping, just as Rin’s gramps did for her.

Then it’s Rin, Nadeshiko and Toba-sensei’s turn to bathe, and upon returning find that everyone is sporting a “Shimarin Bun” courtesy of Ena, hairstylin’ extraordinaire. Nadeshiko wants the same treatment, and then agrees to take a group picture without realizing that Ena actually gave her more of a Cactuar-esque bun.

It’s a bit too early to turn in, so on Chiaki’s suggestion, they avail themselves of the streaming service she signed up for prior to the trip so they could watch media to their hearts’ content. While I’d normally object to breaking out the technology when they’re supposed to be enjoying the untouched wilderness, it’s a cold night, and they’re basically running out the clock until they’re sleepy enough to retire, so I’m fine with it.

Rin and Nadeshiko officially share a tent for the first time here, first lying outside and watching the starry sky. They talk about Moped Journey, and how part of it took place where Nadeshiko is from. Rin thinks she’ll be working for new years, while Nadeshiko isn’t having luck finding a job. Before Nadeshiko nods off while smiling, she says they should go camping lots more next year. Rin in turn smiles and agrees. It’s one of many lovely, quite moments of friendship this series has so excelled at.

Rin wakes up to a 5:00 AM alarm, and wakes Nadeshiko, who is still so out of it she wishes Rin a Happy New Year a week too early. Before the sun rises over a very blue Fuji-san, Rin helps out as Nadeshiko prepares a traditional Japanese breakfast, using leftover meat and broth from the sukiyaki and the ginger Rin bought to make Yamato stew to go with grilled salmon and Rin’s veggie and natto miso soup.

Everyone gets up to break their fast together, and suddenly the sun emerges from behind Fuji-san. It’s as beautiful a sight as you will ever see—whether in this episode or in real life—as all sunrises call to mind rebirth, redemption, and new beginnings in general. And this Christmas Camping trip was certainly the beginning of friendships which could last well past Nadeshiko’s ten-year look forward.

After breakfast, the six young women break camp, Sakura arrives to take Nadeshiko and Ena home, Toba-sensei drives Aoi and Chiaki home, and Rin rides home herself. A bit later, while Rin is working at the bookstore, she’s approached by Ena to buy a camping book, having liked her first experience camping in cold weather.

Meanwhile, Chiaki tells Aoi and Nadeshiko that she tried to recruit Ena while they were camping, but Ena isn’t quite ready to quit the “Going Home Club”.  And so, expecting to remain in their mail slot of a club room for the foreseeable future the trio gives it a top-to-bottom cleaning.

While walking home, Nadeshiko’s worries about seeking employment are allayed by a text from Rin, who puts her in contact with Ena, who has a temp job writing New Years cards and tells Nadeshiko there’s a position for her. This…This is how Nadeshiko’s ground-up camping supply empire gets started! Roll credits.

After the credits, Nadeshiko makes a solitary journey by bike to the same seaside campsite where Rin soloed back in the first episode, when I all but immediately fell in love with this series. As soon as she’s all set up (complete with her retro gas lamp), she gets a text from Rin asking what she’s up to.

Nadeshiko says she’s soloing; so is Rin. Rin asks where; Nadeshiko decides to make it a guessing game based on the photos. Rin sends back a photo fo the exact same place, only with Nadeshiko in the shot—they went to the same place! It’s such a beautiful moment of friendship I’m not ashamed to say I teared up a bit!

It’s pretty much the perfect epilogue, and while viewers of Yuru Camp would have to wait three excruciating years for more Rin and Nadeshiko (including 2020, which was more like ten years), All I need to do is hit “Next Episode” to continue following their story in Yuru Camp Season 2!

Adachi & Shimamura – 06 – Throwing a Boomerang in a Chinese Dress

What is Christmas? What’s a date? What is it, exactly, Adachi really wants from Shimamura? Adachi doesn’t know, aside from the basics, and this is an episode in which that basic understanding is reinforced. Also, Adachi and Shimamura go on a Christmas date!

After getting the day off work, Adachi asks Hino what Shimamura likes, and she vaguely remembers something about fragrant tea, so they go shopping together. It’s the first time she hangs out one-on-one with Hino, and to their surprise, they spot Shimamura hanging out with Nagafuji.

Both Hino and Adachi feel lonely and a little jealous that their respective Number Ones would be alone with someone else, but as Adachi tells herself that night, it’s nothing to get so upset about. Nevertheless, she can’t help but pump herself up for a Christmas to Remember, even if she suspects unforgettable memories won’t be made just because it’s Christmas.

Adachi makes the adorable choice of wearing her work dress to the date, since Shimamura thought she looked cute in it. She wants to hurry up and hold her hand, but surprises Shimamura and jams her thumb. Shimamura touches Adachi’s lips and tells her if she wants to hold hands, just ask! So they do.

Off to the arcade they go, trying out air hockey instead of their usual ping pong, and immediately Shimamura’s competitive streak and distaste for losing rears its head, almost going so far as to accuse Adachi of hustling her. They follow that up with some fast food, while talking about what the future holds.

They may end up in different classes next year, but Adachi declares they should just go to class and meet up to hang out after school, like they’re doing now. Shimamura agrees, impressed by what an “honor student” Adachi has become.

Then Adachi gives Shimamura her gift—which was the very tea she wanted to try; good call, Hino!—and Adachi is surprised to learn that not only has Shimamura gotten her a gift in return, but the reason she was with Nagafuji is that they were picking out a gift for her (under the guise of it being for Shimamura’s little sis).

Adachi doesn’t care that the gift is silly—a boomerang and googles—the fact Shimamura gave her a gift is the best gift of all. She tries it out a few times in the park, but can’t quite get the hang of it. It gets colder, and Shimamura suggests they head inside…but Adachi realizes This Is Her Chance—and she may not get a better one—to tell Shimamura How She Feels.

She gets close—oh so close—to saying she likes her, a lot, but instead settles for something more cowardl-err, more pragmatic: she doesn’t just want to be friends, she wants to be Best Friends. Shimamura doesn’t quite get it, but salutes Adachi’s “ambition”.

So nothing truly dramatic happens just because it’s Chrismas…but I highly doubt Adachi will soon forget her memories of her date with Shimamura. It just comes down to whether best-friendship is all she wants. It seems to be for now; we’ll see if that remains true further down the road.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Adachi & Shimamura – 05 – Running Towards Sparkly Things

Throughout the episode Adachi is on edge until she achieves her objective: ask Shimamura to hang out with her for Christmas. Because she knows it will sound like asking her out on a date (’cause, well, that’s what she’d be doing) and thus change the complexion relationship forever, she struggles to find both the right time to ask and the words to use.

Her first opportunity comes when she asks if she can study at Shimamura’s place. This means Shimamura turns down an invite from Hino and Nagafuji, whom we learn have grown pretty darn close themselves, as Nagafuji for all the world looks like she’s about to kiss Hino on the lips before moving to her forehead.

Up in Shimamura’s dusty study room, she and Adachi get under the kotatsu, and Shimamura calls for a break while the room heats up. Rather than ask what she needs to ask, Adachi instead asks what kind of kid Shimamura was. Her answer is that she was pretty normal; her hair was shorter and undyed, and she wasn’t as inhibited.

She then nods off, and Adachi leans in to almost kiss her before withdrawing, only to have her lap commandeered by Shimamura once she wakes back up. Shimamura doesn’t explain why she’s so comfortable placing her head in Adachi’s lap, and Adachi is far too happy about it to ask why—or about Christmas. She just enjoys the moment for what it is: pure bliss.

The second half of the episode is from Shimamura’s perspective, and she lists all the weird things about Adachi lately. She’s constantly staring at her, always seems like she’s keeping herself from saying or asking something, and even got a higher grade on her English test. That last one is neither here nor there, but it’s proof that Shimamura has had a positive influence on Adachi’s academics.

Shimamura determines if Adachi can’t get the words out, she’ll have to help her do so, taking her by the hand to the roof for some deep breaths and to ask straight up what she wants to talk about. Adachi blushes and says she’ll tell her “after giving it some thought” even though she’s thought of nothing else for days.

Adachi somewhat reminds Shimamura of another friend she had in primary school, who always hid behind her like a trusty shield unless they came across “something sparkly”, then ran to that. That was, perhaps, the first time Shimamura started to question the value of getting close to anyone.

Adachi ends up appearing at Shimamura’s door early in the morning before school. She feels Adachi’s face and brings her in to warm up and, hopefully, finally ask her what she wanted to ask. And at long last, Adachi powers through her crippling hesitation to ask, in almost too roundabout a way, if Shimamura will hang out with her on the 25th of the month. That’s right—she can’t even say “Christmas”!

When Shimamura considers the question, its phrasing, the manner in which Adachi struggled to say it and the redness in her face, she almost asks “why”, but stops herself, knowing it could well irreparably harm their present relationship. She’s apparently so jaded about meaningful bonds that even if she did wreck them, she can’t see herself putting in the necessary effort to repair it.

It’s only when Adachi senses Shimamura pondering her question that she rephrases it in a way that simultaneously fails to get her true feelings across and makes it possible for Shimamura to accept. Adachi says she wants to hang out with “someone” for Christmas, which Shimamura takes to mean “not me specifically, but I’ll do since I’m really her only friend”. Of course, we know Adachi doesn’t want to hang out with anyone else, just like she doesn’t want to kiss or hold hands with or lie in the lap of anyone else.

That said, once Shimamura accepts, she can’t help but see how goshdarn giddy it makes Adachi, as if a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Is that really the reaction of someone for whom “anyone will do”? In her haste to start preparing their day, Adachi marches out of Shimamura’s house and bikes off without her, leaving Shimamura on the floor with her hand out yelling “Wait for li’l ol’ me!” in an uncharacteristic, old-timey way.

So yeah, these two aren’t quite on the same page, and at the moment Shimamura simply isn’t strongly considering the possibility of a romantic entanglement with Adachi in the near future. That said, if anyone can change Shimamura’s way of thinking about the matter, it’s Adachi. While her words continue to fail her, perhaps she can get the job done with her actions.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 61 – A Hymn of Twisted Metal

Sakura is flying around late at night…has she become a delinquent? No, she was just converting four new Clow Cards while using Mirror as her decoy in case anyone checks on her in her room. Mirror wants to tell her something, but Touya peeks in, and she has to return to her card form.

Kero-chan believes Touya is totally on to them but Sakura doesn’t see it. Why would her big bro teases her about everything—from her stomping to her tardiness to the way she eats—yet not tease her about dressing up in frilly dresses and collecting magical cards?

While escorting her to school Touya asks Sakura if he’s gotten a gift for dad yet. He needs a new wallet, but Sakura can’t afford one on her allowance, so Touya and her will pick one out and buy it together. I loved it when Sakura run down a list in her head of people for whom to give gifts…and leaves Syaoran out!

As we know, Touya knows pretty much everything about the magical goings on with Sakura, Yukito, and Tomoeda town in general. He’s pretty much onto Ruby Moon/Nakuru too! It’s just that he’s usually a passive observer and nothing more. I wonder how long he can keep that up when Yukito is growing more and more fatigued.

Sakura has homeroom duties with Syaoran, which I’m sure he sees as yet another glorious opportunity to tell her how he feels, only to be interrupted yet again, this time by Yamazaki’s inane rambling. I daresay this bit has the potential to grow stale, as one can only imagine so many iterations of Syaoran trying and utterly failing to say three simple words.

However, each instance seems to add more dimension. This time, Sakura has Syaoran translate the characters Meiling wrote in her letter, which mean “my dear friend”. Syaoran also tells Sakura that you give people “close to you” Christmas presents in Hong Kong as well, and Sakura tells him she’ll be sure to give him one. Dawww…

Speaking of confessing, Touya has said “I…you…” several times to Yukito without ever getting his intended words out. This week he comes closer than ever, telling the snow rabbit “I know the truth” before Nakuru pops out of the scenery and pounces on him anew.

After listening to Eriol practice a hymn of gratitude on the piano, Sakura prepares to meet her brother, but she and Syaoran sense Clow’s presence. She decides to go with Syaoran, and summons Mirror to go with her brother.

Once Sakura and Syaoran arrive at the location of the presence, they’re confronted by a detached metal railing with a mind of its own, full of sharp, jagged points. It’s one of Eriol’s nastier conjurings, seeing as how the animate twisted metal is a veritable hive of tetanys.

The pair hack at the metal to no avail; it simply reattaches and comes at them again and again. That’s until Sakura summons Mist, which causes the metal to corrode into harmless dust. The aftermath of their battle would appear to be a good time for Syaoran to say what he needs to say, but Sakura, having realized something, has to suddenly go!

As for Mirror!Sakura, she seems happy for the opportunity to hang out with Touya. Even though he immediately notices she’s not really his sister, he’s still kind to her and they have fun shopping and having coffee. Tange Sakura does a lovely job modulating differentiating between Sakura Prime and the quieter, gentler Mirror!Sakura’s voices.

Touya even thanks Mirror for helping Sakura, and offers her a humble gift for Christmas: hair ribbons for her normal form, which he knows has longer hair. Mirror accepts them, bursting with joy and gratitude.

When Sakura suddenly left Syaoran, it was out of a sense of duty to express her gratitude to her cards for helping her whenever she’s in tough spots. She decided to have Eriol teach her the hymn so she could play it (or at least one side of it) and record it for them to listen to.

Mirror, the only card who can communicate verbally with Sakura, warmly accepts the gift, and reveals that what she had wanted to say to her all along was thanks in return for changing them into Sakura Cards and taking care of them. Sakura’s cards love her—and who can blame them??

In the most heartwarming part of the episode, upon returning to card form, Sakura notices green ribbons in Mirror’s hair—the very ribbons Touya gave her. I have no idea how that worked, practically speaking, but it was hella sweet nonetheless!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 35 – Christmas Inferno

After having the Tokyo Tower dream again—this time while in class—Sakura wakes up with Mizuki-sensei looking right at her, giving further credence to the theory that she’s the shadowy figure. But never mind that; it’s Christmastime! Since Yukito birthday is Christmas, Sakura wants to give him a nice gift. She approaches Meiling, who instinctively assumes Sakura is about to kidnap her in order to steal all of Syaoran’s cards, a scenario we watch in brilliant “MeilingVision”!

Meiling assures Sakura that if the recipient of her gift doesn’t hate or fear her, she has nothing to worry about; it’s more about the feelings behind the gift than the object itself. Buoyed by this advice, Sakura works up the courage to call Yukito fiddles with the cell phone Tomoyo gave her until Kero-chan redials Yukito. She asks if he’d go to the amusement park with her, and he accepts.

Sakura is dressed to the nines and on cloud nine as Yukito is obviously the perfect gentleman as their date commences. Unbeknownst to either of them, Tomoyo is recording their date for posterity, which is a little creepy and stalkery until you remember…hey, it’s Tomoyo. Kero-chan is with her too. Then Sakura spots Syaoran on a (forced) date with Meiling.

From there it becomes a double date, with the two couples going on various rides in various combinations. Meiling correctly deduces that Yukito is the gift recipient for whom Sakura asked her for gift advice. Meiling is glad her advice helped, but also probably relieved Sakura is busy with another guy. Touya makes an appearance as a waiter, as he works absolutely everywhere.

A bizarrely burning wreath was foreshadowing for the Clow Card-of-the-week: Fiery. By the time Syaoran and Sakura both sense the card, it’s already set little fires all over the amusement park. Syaoran uses Time to freeze all the bystanders and Sakura uses Sleep to put them all to sleep, but when she uses Windy alone it only fans the flames. Firey is true to his name, and as an elemental is the equal of Windy: any clash between them will end in a stalemate.

That means Sakura must do something rarely done by Cardcaptors: use two Clow Cards…simultaneously. While Time saps Syaoran, she’s got the magical power to summon both Windy and Waterywho quickly restrain Firey and allow Sakura to seal it. It’s a gorgeous sequence, and maybe Sakura’s most bad-ass moment yet—she doesn’t even break a sweat! In an added bonus, since Kero-chan is related to the sun, gaining Firey restores some of his powers, though he’s still stuck in plushie form for now.

With Firey all sealed up, all that’s left is for Sakura to give Yukito his birthday/Christmas gift, which she presents while they’re on a huge Ferris wheel. She ultimately decided to give him a doll…of himself…that she made by herself. You do you, Sakura! Yukito is happy for the gift, and Kero-chan makes their view a little more magical by using his power to bedazzle the night sky.

With that, Cardcaptor Sakura’s marvelous first season comes to a close. I thought Clear Card was great, but the original is some next-level shit. I can only imagine how bowled over I’d have been had I watched it when it first came out, considering how well the animation holds up in 2020. I’m very much looking forward to continuing this magical cardcapturing journey.

Kakushigoto – 09 – The Time Traveling Virtuoso

We’re nearing the end of June IRL, but in the world of Hidden Things December has come. That means the harrowing end-of-year grind when editors crack the whip on the creatives. So why is Kakushi’s team so upbeat? Because they’re expecting the reward of a fancy hotel Christmas party at the end of the tunnel. Kakushi was originally not going to go, but will use whatever methods of motivation are needed to get through the grind.

Leave it to Tomaruin to pop everyone’s balloon of motivation by informing them that due to the publishing recession the company will only be holding a modest bar-and-karaoke gathering. Still, Rasuna scrounges up an invite from a rival publisher Kakushi worked for a while ago, and they are having a fancy party they can attend. Kakushi can even bring Hime, since it’s unlikely anyone there will recognize him as a mangaka.

Throughout this talk of parties is a discussion on the use of titles like “sensei” or “virtuoso” to describe mangakas. Those on the rungs below a manga artist use them as terms of respect; editors use them mockingly or as an expression of resentment. Naturally, Tomaruin calls Kakushi both, and for both reasons!

Kakushi likes the idea of showing Hime the “dignity” of his fake office job through a fancy party, and to correct her misapplication of the word “chandelier” to more lowly disco balls. He even digs himself a bit of a hole by calling December by its old Japanese name, Shiwasu, describing it as a time “when all the senseis are running” (due to the end-of-year grind).

Hime’s penchant for misinterpreting words means she starts to believe that all runners she sees are senseis, even though all senseis are runners—including her dad when he runs to get her after a misunderstanding regarding party invitations.

Tomaruin (perpetual thorn in Kakushi’s side, him!) invites Nadila to the lame party, so she take Hime there instead of the fancy hotel. Having already seen a “chandelier” at the karaoke, Hime assigns the term “Cinderella” to the real chandelier at the hotel, since it resembles that character’s flowing dress.

Kakushi learns he’s safe in his suit (no higher-ups at the rival publisher will suspect a mangaka of wearing one), but he has a different problem: that’s right, Tomaruin. He crashes the party hoping to poach an artist, and looks for one based on their outward appearance. In this case, since female artists are popular, a girl in a frilly dress flanked by a man in a suit.

The first such person to match that description…is Hime. She thankfully doesn’t recognize Tomaruin, but by taking back the business card given to her, Kakushi learns that it’s not the first Hime has gotten. Despite Hime’s misgivings, she actually attracts a lot of attention as a child magazine model.

When word spreads that there’s a poacher from a rival publisher, the exits are blocked. Tomaruin is dressed up dingily by Kakushi and the assistants in order to escape safely, but Kakushi himself is briefly suspected as the poacher—he’s wearing a suit, after all!

The misunderstanding is cleared up when a higher-up recognizes him. He’s reimbursed for his destroyed suit, but the bare-chested Kakushi needs some covering to leave, and must settle for the same embarrassing loli shirt Tomaruin wore to pose as a mangaka.

It’s a night of books incorrectly judged by their covers, but Hime still had a lot of fun, and Kakushi’s true profession remains a secret, so we’ll call it a win for him. Before heading home, the father and daughter encounter the “virtuoso” of chandeliers: a dazzling LED stylized Christmas tree Hime calls a “Super Cinderella.” Kakushi wisely doesn’t try to correct her…let her have her own adorable terms for things!

The ever-so-brief obligatory flash forward provides one more clue about Kakushi’s future status in the form of another incorrect term: “disappeared”. His former assistant Shiji, now working at a bookstore, sells a book to a customer about three mangakas who disappeared, one of whom is Kakushi, before quietly declaring that a lie. My first thought? He kept drawing, but merely changed pen names. In any case, I’m fearing the worst about this future less and less.

Chihayafuru 3 – 16 – Karuta in the Streaming Age

No sooner does Chihaya lose to Suo (and be told the simple yet devastating two words “you can’t”) than Taichi is challenging him for a match of his own. Suo refuses until Taichi bribes him with sweets, and then Suo proceeds to beat him by fourteen cards. But Unlike Chihaya and most of Suo’s opponents, Taichi didn’t commit a single fault. That’s because Taichi is starting to want to play his karuta the same way: through the mistakes of his opponents.

Taichi also tells Suo that Chihaya isn’t really his boyfriend, which means now Suo thinks he has a chance with her. I’m sorry but I could not care less about this creep’s further attempts to woo someone who is already thoroughly in love with someone/thing (more on that later). What I do like? Chihaya wasting no time reporting to Harada about a possible weakness in Suo’s game.

Christmas Eve arrives, and the karuta club celebrates at the Tsukaba residence. This party feels like it could have been a lot longer and probably should have been. Not a whole episode, mind you, but at least half of one. Chihaya’s appearance as Santa comes and goes so fast there’s barely any time to process it.

But more than the hasty Chihaya-as-Santa cameo, the party just isn’t given any time to breathe the way slice-of-life scenes should, especially when Desktomu tells Chihaya how he considers the club a family, and they all consider Tsukaba’s little brothers their own little brothers.

When Christmas arrives, Shinobu spends it practicing in her hoity-toity family’s reception room, drawing her mother’s ire. Shinobu considers karuta to be more her family than her mother, but her grandmother likely scores some family points by letting Shinobu keep practicing and even writing on the tatami with a marker!

Shinobu is desperate to practice because she missed the Fall tournaments with illnesses, and she’s rusty. She also has no choice but to look towards the future she must discuss at high school, although because it’s a school full of “rich girls” the counselor kinda half-asses it. When Shinobu said she’d have “nothing” if she loses the queen match, it made me sad, but also made me wish she had a home that accepted her foibles, and the proper guidance at school.

New Years and the next week after that pass by in a flash, and the day of the Master and Queen tournaments arrives. There’s notably less pomp and spectacle at Omi Jingu since NHK decided it would not televise the matches live on TV. Tsukaba fears it’s a sign that karuta is “in decline”, but Desktomu assures him, the opposite is true.

Karuta has found a larger, younger audience via online streaming, and there’s more interaction thanks to the live chat. The first year of this change comes with a very convincingly intimidating challenger in Harada, a shifty creeper in Master Suo, an adorable mother in Inokuma, and the ethereal-yet-also-goofy-haired Queen Shinobu—so there’s plenty to chat about besides karuta!

As for Chihaya, she’ll be watching the matches in person for the first time, and had expected/hoped Arata would be there too. Alas, he’s come down with a fever. In a way, they both have. As their mutual love of both karuta and one another ever-so-gradually untangles, it seems to be affecting both their games. Chihaya notes how warm she feels just by dialing Arata’s number and talking to him for a minute, and feels like she’d “blow up” if he were really there.

This episode’s breathless progression through the holidays made for some odd pacing I wasn’t really a fan of, while Suo continues to cast a pall on the whole show with his eccentric unpleasantness. As such, this is the first episode of Chihayafuru’s third season I cannot enthusiastically endorse. That said, if the Master and Queen challenger matches were any indication, the impending Master and Queen tournaments should be lit.

P.S. Chihaya mentions in her inner monologue that she’ll never wear earbuds lest they hurt her hearing, but does so while riding on a train. Trains, and especially subway cars, can get pretty piercingly loud. Just sayin’!

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 06 – Rainy Days are The Worst. Rainy Days are The Best.

After a cold open involving Hirotaka and Kabakura being photographed doing BL roleplay, we rewind to Narumi and Hirotaka both forgetting their umbrellas, despite being adults. Kabakura isn’t worried about any of his effects getting wet, so lends them his umbrella.

Hirotaka switches both the side he’s on (so she doesn’t get splashed by cars) and the position of his bag so smoothly, Narumi takes note of it in her inner monologue, and it’s further evidence he’s legit boyfriend material. Meanwhile a soaking wet Kabakura encounters Koyanagi and asks if she’ll share her umbrella, and rather than say he gave his to their friends, he says he forgot it, and gets doted on by a concerned Koyanagi.

For her part, Koyanagi professes her hatred for rainy days because her shoes get wet, but when she invites herself to Kabakura’s for dinner and he invites her to spend the night, she professes her love for rainy days. So basically, she and rain are like Asuka and Shinji.

Then we see why Hirotaka and Kabakura were posing like would-be lovers: to cheer up Narumi. Hirotaka can sense something’s up, but Narumi is being all coy with false smiles and “it’s nothing really, don’t worry about it.”

Finally, Hirotaka waits for her after work and continues to pursue the issue, going so far as to ask if he’s “so undependable” she can’t tell him what’s up. Finally, she relents, and it turns out to be nothing; a character in a manga she (and Kabakura) liked died.

If it were something genuinely troubling, would Narumi have told him? I like to think so, but even not, sometimes it pays to be persistent when someone is trying to spare you trouble or worry…and in this case, Hirotaka already was worried.

Finally, Christmas approaches. There’s talk of Santa and when Narumi, Hirotaka, and Naoya stopped believing in him. Nao, in a thin and much-less-warm-than-it-looks Santa costume handing out free coffee outside Starbucks, states that he never stopped believing in Santa; his definition of who it was simply shifted to anyone you love or are connected with who makes you happy. Narumi praises Nao as a saint.

Last year’s Christmas was The Worst for Koyanagi. Sure, she had plenty of time to make a wicked awesome costume, but the reason she had that time is that Kabakura spent the holiday working his ass off, and they didn’t even speak to each other until the new year had some.

This year Koyanagi assumes it will be more of the same, and that she simply has to make peace with the fact her boyfriend is a workaholic. But as office elevator doors close, Kabakura suddenly teleports from his desk to the doors, forcing them open and joining Koyanagi.

He ends up taking her to a super fancy and exclusive restaurant, the reservations for which he made over a half-year ago, and the cost of which he worked extra hours to afford. Koyanagi, appreciative of his efforts, presents him with the gift of a limited-edition event item.

Hirotaka and Narumi stay in for Christmas Eve, eating takeout, drinking beer and wine, and playing video games together. Both couples look like they’re having nice Christmases.

ReLIFE – 16

Well THAT escalated quickly! Christmas is approaching, and after Kaizaki recommends an almost too-pure-for-the-world Oga to just take Kariu anywhere and they’ll have fun, he suddenly finds Hoshiro not only avoiding him, but bolting away like a scared chipmunk whenever he makes eye contact.

Kariu and Tamarai kinda already know what’s up; both Kariu and Oga previously pegged Kaizaki and Hoshiro as being in love, so they convene in the locker room to get it from the horse’s mouth. Yet all Hoshiro can say about her feelings is “I don’t know.” Kariu, suddenly the mature one to provide the advice, tells her “I don’t know” isn’t going to cut it…not when she’s just “one step away.”

Later, Tamarai simply advises Hoshiro to ask Kaizaki on a date, just as Oga advised Kaizaki to ask Hoshiro. But just when Kaizaki thinks their distance couldn’t be any greater, Hoshiro sneaks up behind him and asks him if he’s free on the 25th and to expect further details by LIME.

That night, Kaizaki is a nervous wreck, but finally gets those details, along with another silly Hoshiro cat sticker. Hoshiro makes it clear it’s a date and she’s looking forward to it. After getting the all-green from Yoake, Kaizaki isn’t about to turn her down, even if he believes it will “ruin her Christmas” when she inevitably forgets all about him.

The date starts out a bit stiff, but both parties seem to be enjoying themselves immensely as they mill around the mall doing date stuff. In an adorable little detail, Hoshino, completely unaware that “Christmas” dates typically happen on Christmas Eve, set the date for Christmas day, but that ends up working out just fine, as it’s a lot less crowded.

The montage of their date is a somewhat creepy montage of photos taken by Yoake and Onoya, who are keeping a respectful distance but still watching and listening to their charges like hawks…while trying to get in some Christmas chilling of their own.

When Onoya acknowledges with a somber look that both of the lovebirds will forget all about their wonderful date, Yoake, always trying to find the silver lining, says that won’t mean it never happened…which, fine, but dude, that’s not the same of having a date and remembering it! The latter is much better, and these two deserve much better!

Yoake, having at least a sliver of heart, sends a quick message to Kaizaki informing him it’s actually Hoshiro’s birthday. When she gets him a present for Christmas, he gets her one for both Christmas and her birthday, bringing a warm and appreciative smile to her face.

When the two go up in a Ferris Wheel, Hoshiro asks Kaizaki what his birthday is. He tells her it already passed in August, and both get very troubled and pained when they say they’ll just have to celebrate it next year, knowing full well (at least at this point) that next year won’t happen for them, and saying they’ll never forget today. It’s hard to watch, I tellsya!

But even if nothing romantic happens on the Ferris Wheel, things turn around on a bridge. Kaizaki impulsively reaches out and takes Hoshiro’s arm as if to hug her, but she draws back. Apologizing, she tells him how much he’s “on her mind”, and the more he’s on her mind, the less she understands what to do.

It’s all the opening Kaizaki needs. He tells her she’s on his mind to, and that he loves her. That in turn allows Hoshiro to take the one final step Kariu was talking about: she tells him her feelings for him are the same.

With that, it suddenly starts raining. Ever prepared, Hoshino breaks out her umbrella and holds it out for Kaizaki. He takes hold just above her hand, but she puts her hand over his before they walk away together into the dark sacred night.

I honestly have no idea where things will go from here, and I can’t rule out the possibility Yoake will have his way and their memory of one another will vanish, which would be an appalling tragedy. That’s why I wouldn’t have minded if this was the final episode.

After sixteen episodes of these two, things are exactly where I want them. Will I regret watching one more episode? Am I a fool for hoping some kind of happy ending is still possible? One, perhaps, in which they meet and hit it off as strangers? Hey, I’ll take a relationship respawn over a system failure any day.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 10

Now that they’ve arrived at Antarctica, the expedition weighs anchor and starts to bring supplies ashore using a very badass helicopter. The high school girls take a trip (which Yuzu likes not at all) and get to see the ship from the sky (it’s a thrilling bit of CGI) before being deposited at Syowa Station.

Kanae gives the girls—and by extension us—a tour of the facilities, including seperate bedrooms for all four of them, a luxury after having to share a berth at sea. While spartan, the habitations are also quite cozy and homey, far nicer than what I was expecting.

I really enjoyed the contrast between the cool Antarctic “night” (light-wise it stays dusk at its darkest) and the warm, inviting, lived-in interiors; the perfect place to kick back after a hard day’s work.

As unloading, cleaning, and other duties mount, Yuzu learns she’s been offered a role on a popular Japanese TV drama (there’s cell service at the station), but is worried it would mean, as it’s always meant throughout her career, the end of her time with Mari, Shirase and Hinata.

True to that career, she even comes up with a “friendship contract” for them to sign, causing Mari to cry and hug Yuzu with a distinct “you poor thing” vibe.

There were times when Yuzu seemed almost painfully naive about what friends and friendship are, but then I remembered that these three girls are her first, so naturally she wouldn’t be sure when the threshold of friendship had passed. Of course, no one really knows when that happens; friendships may not be as solid and structured as marriages or parenthood, but that’s what sets them apart as something special.

Mari takes the time to impart some wisdom to Yuzu regarding what she considers friendship (since it can be different for everyone) using Megumi as an example. Mari has been sending her pics, and whether Megu responds right away or as often or not, she always knows when Megumi has seen the message by the notification on the phone. That, in turn, helps Mari imagine what Megumi might be doing or thinking about in that moment.

With that, the other three arrive and unveil what they had been planning for Yuzu all along: a surprise birthday party. Her real birthday passed when they were all horribly seasick, so the Christmas party made her sad.

So the girls prepped some poppers and cake so that she could celebrate her very first birthday with friends. It’s almost too much to handle, as Yuzu starts bawling and can’t even speak clearly because of all the tears and snot.

But the next day, when Mari and Yuzu are off doing different tasks, Yuzu sends Mari a text not apologizing, but thanking her. Just a simple little check-in that lets both Mari and Yuzu know that they’re thinking of one another. Finally, Yuzu seems to get what friendship is, and that one should never overthink it.

Citrus – 09

It’s a given that Matsuri would lose the Battle of Yuzu, and that she’d lose for one simple reason: it’s not a battle, or at least it’s not supposed to be. Life isn’t a video game and it isn’t zero-sum.

While that can be unsatisfying and frustrating for someone so seemingly adept at “playing the game”, it reveals that Matsuri’s “game” is actually very limited, specialized, even stunted, and that there’s a lot more for her to learn, much like Mei and Yuzu.

For now, however, Mei simply concedes the first round, with a longer game plan that’s a lot clearer than I thought, but with no guarantee of success. Matsuri tells her to buzz off or she’ll leak the photo of them kissing, and just to twist the knife, orders Mei to go on a date with one of Matsuri’s old creepy “texting buddies.”

Mei knows how much Yuzu is looking forward to the Christmas party—she can hear Yuzu gushing to Mama from the hallway, but Mei tells her she must decline…”extra council work that can’t wait.” When Yuzu tries to persuade her to reconsider, Mei tells Yuzu to be with Matsuri, stating “that girl needs you.”

The next day after school, Mama Harumin almost inadvertently gets Yuzu to discovr Mei isn’t working with the school council when she suggests Yuzu help out with the council if she wants to party with Mei later. Unfortunately, Matsuri intercepts Yuzu on the way to the office, and insists they go on their date together. Heeding Mei’s words last night and goes along.

So, round two goes to Matsuri as well, and that’s a win, right? I mean, she’s on a date with Yuzu and Yuzu alone, while Mei is sleeping with some creep! Well, it’s not that simple. When Matsuri expresses her distaste for the frequency with with Yuzu talks about Mei, she loses her cool and reveals the her plan, trying in vain to convince Yuzu that Mei is a slutty little liar.

In hindsight, Matsuri should probably be ashamed of herself for thinking Yuzu would react by shunning Mei and running into her open arms. Then again, at this point in her emotional development, winning, and beating Mei, and anyone else between her and Yuzu, is more important than how Yuzu feels.

Round Three is ALL MEI. Yuzu may not have seen what Matsuri was doing before, but she’s sure woke to it now, and excoriates Matsuri for trying to hurt Mei, the person who “looked at her the most”, even urging her to pay more attention to Matsuri.

“Relationships aren’t games,” Yuzu yells in the full restaurant, not giving AF who hears. “Don’t sum them up with cheap words like winning and losing!” Dayum Yuzu, coming through in the clutch.

Turns out Mei didn’t have to sleep with anyone; and Yuzu manages to find her at the meeting point. She runs to Mei and hugs her, in tears over what Mei went through, or more precisely, what she let Matsuri put her through.

The three share the train ride back. Matsuri is still thinking in terms of winning and losing, (and let’s be honest, Mei DID win here) but at least tries to correct herself from that kind of talk.

The reason Mei won is that she and Matsuri are so similar, seeking love everywhere while hating those around them, closing their hearts, and refusing to accept anything. It left Mei empty, as empty as Matsuri must have been feeling.

But she didn’t count on a “meddlesome person” like Yuzu entering her life and giving her unconditional love even when she didn’t ask for it, filling a bit of that emptiness.

Matsuri is rightly impressed by Mei’s recklessness, but Mei trusted Yuzu enough to believe that as soon as she got wise to Matsuri’s games, she’d come running to her side, and that’s just what happened. Matsuri leaves the two, but before she does, whispers in Yuzu’s ear that Mei really likes her, before loudly, jokingly suggesting a threesome in the future. Frankly, Matsuri got off pretty easy here.

That night, Mei insists on having a slice of the cake Yuzu worked so hard to make for Christmas. Yuzu calls her stubborn, but Mei replies that’s who I am. Just as Matsuri had to learn that relationships aren’t only about winning and losing, Mei has to learn to be more open and honest to Yuzu.

And the truth is this: Yuzu makes her heart race, just like Mei makes hers. But there’s things inside Mei that will please her, and things that will terrify her. Bottom line, if she’s still adamant about some kind of romance, Mei is game, but Yuzu will have to take and accept all of her, including the warts, and be content that she isn’t going to change, any more than Yuzu should.