HenSuki – 06 – The Scent of Destiny

After Keiki rescues her on the stairs, StuCo vice-chair Fujimoto Ayano presents him with a token of her gratitude: some delicious homemade cookies. She also gets very close to Keiki and inhales deeply, which Keiki thinks is a little strange but also pretty cute. He has master stalker Koharu investigate Ayano, and comes up with nothing abnormal aside from a tendency to “gap moe”and of ending up in close-quarters situations with Keiki.

After Yuika accuses Keiki of doing terrible things—in her dream last night—Ayano invites Keiki to a clean-up session in town. Sayuki tags along as his self-appointed dog, and is soon up to mischief when she pounces on him under the bridge. Keiki, remembering what his grandfather said whenever their dog jumped on top of him, rubbing his butt is the way to show the dog who’s boss. It works on Sayuki, who has to withdraw due to overexcitement.

As for Ayano, she seems perfectly nice, neither interested in being Keiki’s slave nor making him her slave, nor writing about him and his best mate getting it on. She’s mostly just…normal. Unfortunately, the other shoe inevitably drops when she invites him to an otherwise empty StuCo office, where she’s adjusted the lighting, music, and accomodations to make Keiki very, very sleepy.

He wakes up to Ayano unzipping his pants, wanting to remove his sweaty underwear. Turns out her fetish is smell; specifically the body odor of boys. All the clues were there with her constant smelling of him and his clothes, but for her to take it to this extreme was still…deflating. Keiki himself imagined he’d finally found someone normal enough to complement his normalcy, after all.

Still, of all of the kinks the girls he’s encountered have had, Ayano’s seems the least egregious. After all, why is it so awful for Keiki if she likes his stink? People who like each other tend to be attracted to each other’s scents anyway. It’s not like she’s asking if she can punish him/if he can punish her. I daresay the ultra-normal girl Keiki says he’s after doesn’t actually exist, at least not at his school. The next best thing, then, is the most tolerable of the “weirdos”.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 03

When Takagi spots Nishikata and suggests they walk home together, Nishikata offers her some of his drink, thinking she won’t go for an “indirect kiss.” Of course, she’s fine with it; it’s Nishikata who wigs out at the prospect.

Nishikata then makes a fluke shot with the empty can in the garbage can and gets all cocky when Takagi misses. Turns out her miss was a trap; her next shot goes right in, then interrupts his shot by saying she’ll give him her first kiss if he makes it. He misses.

The next day Nishikata estimates he was teased fifteen times by Takagi, so when he hears form a sports figure on the TV that he trains ten times harder when he loses, he begins doing pushups. At school, he’s all sore, and Takagi takes advantage by poking his arm.

Nishikata keeps up the training, despite the fact Takagi teases him more and more with each passing day. However Takagi later admits that she’s starting to notice the effects of the training, saying he “looks pretty good;” while she may be sincere, she’s also trying to make him blush, and she succeeds.

Finaly, on a rainy afternoon Takagi forgets her umbrella, so asks Nishikata if he can share. He tries to scare her with a frog, but it doesn’t faze her in the least, and when she notices his wet shoulder, she scoots closer to him, causing his heart to race even more in such an awkward situation.

In all three segments, Takagi is both testing and expanding the limits of contact with Nishikata, all while inducing the priceless reactions she lives for. It gets to the point where she tries to get Nishikata to say “I love you” in both Japanese and English.

He bristles as expected, but some day, perhaps a couple years from now, he might not think all this attention from and contact with Takagi to be so torturous.

Qualidea Code – 12 (Fin)

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Qualidea Code wasn’t always (or really ever) the prettiest, but it was the best-sounding (musically at least), and also never seemed to stand still. It improved right up until the end, at least as far as resolving a major issue early on: a mysterious, faceless, malevolent enemy.

By this final episode, the enemy is no longer faceless, or malevolent (though some mysteries about what they are or where they come from remains unknown to the end, thankfully). In fact, it seems strange to call Airi and Asanagi enemies at all; merely a party with a different agenda.

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Placing them in a grayer area, and resolving their story in a more nuanced way than “kill bad guys” went a long way towards helping me mostly overlook the fact that the show seemed to have run out of budget this week, as huge swaths of animation are simply missing.

I didn’t even mind Aoi’s sudden but inevitable (and heavily telegraphed) “betrayal.” But just like Asanagi, who turns out to be her father, her decision to side with him and Airi is borne out of love, not hate, so it’s hard to condemn what she does.

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That doesn’t mean I don’t want Ichiya and the others to succeeding in ridding the world of the Unknown, and watching them fight desperately, initially without their worlds, made for a thrilling final battle, despite the animation shortcomings. Asuha headbutting Aoi, and Hotaru holding her sword in her mouth were among the highlights.

In the end, everyone gets a boost in power thanks to the return of Canaria’s song, which gets a slightly different (but still very danceable) arrangement for the finale, in which Airi is killed by Hime, who remembers learning which conditions would allow Airi to die contented.

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In the end, Airi does not mind leaving her mortal coil, for she achieved what she wanted: she and Asanagi were able to make another, entirely new life: Aoi. Asanagi does not die, but stays with his daughter.

The Kasumis visit their injured mom, who is ecstatic they’re safe and sound. The dimensional tear is sealed, the skies return to blue, and the heads and subheads of Kanto all vow, in their own way, to rebuild what was toppled.

While we don’t get to hear Ichiya’s answer to Canaria’s question “how do I look to you now?”, we didn’t need any words from him to know how he feels: She’s all he needs.

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Qualidea Code – 11

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Kasumi and Asuha’s mom isn’t shy about her goal: to wipe out each and every Unknown she can. In addition to being angry they kept her children captive and used them as tools for so long, she also believes there’s no reasoning with a creature so alien.

And yet, as we learn later this week as the Unknown wind down their operations on Earth, Johannes isn’t quite right about the second thing. Not only is an Unknown able to feel how a human feels, she’s also able to love, in her way. And she in turn is loved back by a human.

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Aoi, who continues to be a tense wild card just waiting to go off and undermine the plans to eradicate the Unknown, seems to understand this. It’s not just that she lacks perspective due to an emotional attachment to Yunami and Asanagi…it’s that they’re worth being worried about. She can sense that the two are different from Johannes’ black-and-white, no-quarter viewpoint.

Unfortunately, a great deal of the Unknown still seem committed to attacking humans, and Johannes isn’t in the mood to carefully pick her targets. She launches a huge attack with her big cannon, but when it proves insufficient and she’s taken out of action with an injury, it provides an opportunity for the kids to keep doing what they do best: fight for themselves.

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Of course, for our six peeps, fighting for themselves means fighting for those they love: Rindo and Hime, Asuha and Kasumi…and Canaria and Ichiya. Whatever other issues are at hand, they don’t want to lose each other, so they have to fight and they have to win. That means infiltrating enemy HQ and closing the dimensional gate that allowed the Unknown in to begin with.

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Aoi remains the third, or rather seventh wheel, following everyone but constantly looking conflicted, and with, as I mentioned, good reason. The ones she wants to protect are the adults who cared for them so kindly all those years, making them more parents than her actual parents (which are probably gone).

As Rindo and Hime encounter what seems to be Yunami’s true form, and the others meet Asanagi, who was human all along, it will be interesting to see how the final showdown will turn out. Will there be a need for fighting? Will the Unknown, led by Yunami, peacefully return to where they came from? Are there more twists in store that will test everyone’s priorities? The endgame approaches.

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Qualidea Code – 10

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The truths of the real world our heads and subheads are now awakened to roll in like relentless waves this week, and it’s a lot for them to take in.

All this time, they’ve been captives of the Unknown, who altered their perception of the world so they would see adult humans as Unknown, and thus fight them. In a way, it’s worse than The Matrix, because they’re not just batteries, they’re weapons the Unknown are using to wipe out whats left of their families.

Suddenly having your world upside down is both frightening and un-mooring, and can mess with one’s sense of identity. The kids hold close to what they know to be true beyond any doubt, and reinforced through the years they were cared for by the Unknown: the bonds of friendship and love they all share.

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Kasumi and Asuha’s ambitious (and morally flexible) mother Johannes is in charge of the humans, having climbed a ladder constructed off those who once opposed her, be they dead or now under her heel.

She’s a handful, and while parts of Kasumi and Asuha are glad to reunite with their mother, this has all happened very fast, and an adjustment period will be necessary to process it all, especially the fact that they no longer need to fight, which is what defined them to this point.

Ichiya is also particularly un-moored, because his idea of who he was – a hero who was “all we need(ed)” and the only one who could protect Canaria – has blown up in his face with the knowledge that it was all an illusion. He was nothing but a clown; a puppet being manipulated along with all the other kids.

It’s really good to see Canaria back in the show. Her cheerful demeanor are welcome in such a harsh new world, but Ichiya just can’t function without her. We saw that, and we see just how much these two mean to each other in a lovely scene that nearly turns into a kiss before Ichiya panics and sends Cana flying in the opposite end of the room.

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Johannes seems singularly obsessed with three things (in no particular order): grabbing and holding power, protecting her kids, and utterly eliminating the Unknown down to the last one, with extreme prejudice.

Kasumi and Asuha have grown up to the point they don’t really need their mother, or anyone other than each other and their comrades to protect them and give them purpose. The Unknown may have stolen them from their human parents, but the crucial years of development they were separated aren’t coming back.

Not only that, but the Unknown, represented by Asanagi and Yunami, aren’t portrayed as evil this week, but rather as two people stuck in a system who only wants what’s best for the children they’ve come to love. Were they misguided in their actions? Surely.

But they’re not the monsters Johannes makes them out to be, and the kids’ opinions of them are at best conflicted, and in the case of Aoi, totally sympathetic.

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Surely the kids can figure out a way to come between their warring parents and the Unknown and come to some kind of negotiated peace or coexistence. That would seem to be the point here. The Adults, led by Johannes, are bent on revenge, and won’t stop attacking. It’s up to their offspring to create a world that moves past this conflict.

When the Unknowns attack Johannes’ fleet, its an indication Asanagi and Yunami didn’t get the final say—perhaps their are other Unknowns in higher positions that think about the humans how Johannes thinks about them.

Another point I want to make: we’ve learned just enough about the Unknown to make them far more interesting and nuanced. They have a face and emotions and dreams and desires just like humans. If they think and feel and act so alike, appearances aside, perhaps they’re not so “unknown” after all.

For the time being, Ichiya and Canara, Kasumi and Asuha, and Hime and Hotaru all decide to keep fighting beside one another, the ones they know for sure they can count on, whatever issues they may have with one another. Keeping things simple by fighting the enemy, staying alive, and having each others backs is the best way to stay centered in increasingly uncertain times.

Which is why Aoi’s isolation and anxiety worries me.

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P.S. I somehow forgot to publish the draft of last week’s episode review, so this week you get two. You’re welcome. :*

Kiznaiver – 08

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The Kiznaivers have never been closer, even if they still tend to snipe at each other, they also all show up when Nico invites them to the mall to hang out take booth photos together (which is what regular friends do) even during a typhoon warning.

Back at Kizuna HQ, Yamada and Urushi are licking their chops at the opportunity to move the experiments to the next level, and the conditions are perfect, so they use the Gomorins to bring the team in.

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Before they do, the sight of an outdoor playcenter reminds Kacchon vividly of the time he was test subjects with Noriko. When Yamada nonchalantly explains more about the Kizuna Project and how they even went so far as to experiment on researchers’ and sponsors’ own children, it’s pretty clear what’s coming: some kind of epiphany between the currently frustrated Noriko and a Kacchon who is “disappointed” in her.

I must say, I’m not a big fan at all of Yamada or Urushi, who are way too laid back about the fact they essentially tortured children who had no say in the matter, not to mention all the adults who suffered from early experimentation. Morally speaking, the ends don’t usually justify the means…and they don’t even have any ends yet.

All they have are seven youths who have already demonstrated that they not only share each other’s physical pain, but also strong emotions, be they negative or positive. And Yamada and Urushi want to delve deeper into the positive by pairing everyone off. Again, it’s a bit icky, but they’re committed, as is Noriko, to ensuring the experiment is completed – regardless of how the subjects feel.

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The chart of Kiznaivers relationships reminded me of the character charts Zane used to spend way too much time making, but once they were complete really gave a concise picture of who liked whom (One instance that was at times a closed circle of one-sided relationships was Nagi no Asukara).

Here, Urushi lays out the obvious: Yuta likes Honoka; Honoka still likes Ruru; Nico likes Tenga; Tenga likes Chidori; Chidori likes Agata, and Hisomu likes pain. Noriko can figure out the last one for herself, to the surprise of the adults: Agata likes her.

She’s known for a while that he had strong emotions, but didn’t know they were romantic. Now, all of a sudden, the pieces are falling into place for her, and she heads to where the others are to “kickstart” the experiment.

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As Noriko purposefully makes her way, time runs out for Chidori to properly confess to Kacchon, despite the two being all alone for an extended period of time. Kacchon’s attention is turned elsewhere, quite suddenly, by a stronger sensation, and either the symbolic visualization or straight-up hallucination of his younger self and hi fellow test subjects leading him to where he needs to be.

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That precise time and place turns out to be crucial, as Kacchon arrives at the place just in time to save Noriko from being crushed by a falling statue just as she emerges from an abandoned metro station. Just like that, Noriko’s experiment has taken a huge step forward.

Why? Simply put, Kacchon has achieved a kind of “spidey-sense” vis-a-vis Noriko. Or rather, he’s always had it, and it has finally fully re-awakened. That explains the cryptic visions of the younger Noriko. It isn’t that her feelings reached him in time. She is a part of him and vice-versa.

To confirm, Noriko removes her choker to expose the Kizuna scar on her neck, glowing brighter and purer than any of the others’ wrist scars. That’s Kacchon in there, and that’s huge, as it not only progresses the experiment, ill-begotten as it was, but marks the loosening of a knot that had been festering in Kacchon’s heart for years. I for one am intrigued.

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Kiznaiver – 07

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While Ruru wasn’t literally killed by Maki (obviously), her mother is glad Maki feels guilty for abandoning her as a friend, making her write the final chapter by herself. Half the house is a shrine to Ruru, so the tension runs high in the mother’s presence. They may have known Ruru was going to live a short life due to her chronic illness, but that doesn’t make the pain any less difficult to bear.

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This week we also learn how Maki and Ruru —two loners—met for the first time and became more dear to one another than anyone else. They filled in each other’s manga weaknesses (Ruru’s writing, Maki’s art), and rose quickly as their audience soared.

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But it seems Maki was never a fan of Ruru “joking” about jumping off high ledges, faking a seizure, or getting more romantic with her. Though the last one, Maki knew, wasn’t a joke, nor was she not interested.

Ultimately, it seems more like Maki cut herself off from Ruru in order to be spared the even greater pain she’s endure if Ruru died when they were lovers. This is a very tense but lovely scene because it’s so intimately shot, but also interspersed with art from their manga depicting the same actions.

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The other Kiznaivers don’t know most of this…because Maki hasn’t told them, but also because they haven’t come out and asked. They come up with a plan to become her friend at all costs, not leaving her alone until she realizes there’s no point in resisting any longer; it’s six-against-one, after all.

It’s just really nice to see how much these six have gelled as a group, and how they basically became friends through osmosis, without even realizing it. Chidori in particular notices how Kacchon is changing, but for the better, and how he doesn’t simply allow Tenga to walk all over him, but rather likes having him around.

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As blue and lost as Maki is right now, the six still want her around too, especially Yuta, who tries to use the manga to learn more about what happened. The final chapter is one that Maki never read, and she assumes Ruru “cursed” her to love her and no one else forever and ever.

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That turns out to not be the case, as Ruru, treating the final chapter she wrote alone as a kind of indirect letter to Maki, telling her if remembering her ever gets too painful, it’s okay to forget, because she loved her smile and wouldn’t want her to stop using it.

Yuta manages to get Maki to come out for fireworks, but she’d rather watch everyone swim in the ocean instead. To everyone’s shock, Yuta doesn’t hesitate in running as fast as he can into the water and splashing around like a goon.

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Once Maki has read and understood Ruru’s wish for her, the smile returns to her face, the first smile we’ve seen that wasn’t sinister or fake. And the Kiznaivers feels something that isn’t pain – a weight being lifted from Maki’s heart. She can’t be friends with any of them, she says—because they’re already far closer than friends or lovers.

I enjoyed the resolution to Maki’s impasse with the other Kiznaivers. It felt earned and realistic that these people who so badly want to be her friends would eventually pull her out of the darkness and into clarity, closure, relief, and understanding. It’s also neat how the story of these last couple episodes serves as a real-life extra chapter to the manga Maki and Ruru made together.

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Kiznaiver – 06

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In the OP, which I consider the most excellent of the season, the Chidori is the final of the seven Kiznaivers to run across the screen before the title splash, giving her a certain prominence. But in both of the OP’s character “roll calls”, the one in the middle is Honoka Maki, and in the second one, there’s a dramatic visual stab (and the presentation of the Trigger logo) when she appears.

This, and some of the mysteries surrounding Maki and the someone she says she “killed”, has had me thinking the whole time that the most significant character story to date would eventually come from her, not Chidori. Another piece of the puzzle falls into place in a powerful flashback where Maki’s friend (and apparent manga partner) Ruri nearly leaps to her death before being pulled back by Maki.

Ruri laughs uncontrollably, doubtless because of the profundity of what had just transpired—Maki may call her stupid, but still saved her when it mattered. But Maki is just stunned. Why did Ruri do that? What if she tries it again when she’s not there?

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Maki is toeing a similar line in the present: she may act all aloof, but she still comes to Kiznaiver get-togethers when invited, even if she leaves early without partaking in somen. Nico tries to follow and be friendly with her, but when she calls herself stupid, Maki can’t help but be reminded of Ruri saying the same thing, gets upset, and runs off. But now that she and the other six Kiznaivers’ hearts are connected, everyone feels her pain, and they can’t just forget it.

While she’s still a far more sterile personality, Noriko also seems a bit lonely as the mayor warns her of increasing difficulties in keeping the experiment under wraps. Her time is running out—perhaps in more ways than one, judging from her in-car self-injection—but she’s committed to delivering results. And hey, it’s not as if she hasn’t made real progress with the Kiznaivers.

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Yuta, still trying to maintain his normal life with his ladies, happens to be shown the same manga Maki created, made immensely popular when readers learned she and Ruri were middle schoolers. I like how Yuta is freaked out by the huge eyes, unimpressed by the hodgepodge of themes, but at the same time feels this is a window into Maki that, along with their new connected hearts, can help him get somewhere with her, in terms of helping to lift some of that pain and gloominess.

Maki, for her part, stubbornly rejects any kind of help, even when Yuta offers it unsolicited when her former editor asks her to sign off on a documentary of “Charles Macking”, her nom de plume.

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The editors ignore her refusal to permit such a project and arrive at school to film her. When the cameras are stuffed in her face and everyone hears she’s Charles de Macking-sensei, she starts to lose it right quick. Fortunately, the other six Kiznaivers are given a mission she’s not aware of to “save her”, and they do—at least temporarily, from the camera crew.

It’s great teamwork, but it does nothing to solve the underlying pain Maki feels. Indeed, she seems to be repulsed by any attempt to help her, perhaps because she feels responsible for Ruri’s death, and thus feels she’s no longer worthy of friends, happiness, or pity.

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Maki’s covered it up with her antisocial personality up to this point, but now her comrades know her game, and they aren’t about to accept her continued self-punishment. But rather than pester her more—she still needs to recover form the shock of that camera confrontation—they decide to try to learn more about Ruri, the person whose death caused Maki to fall into this state whom we know precious litle about, besides the fact she was a little bit of a daredevil.

As for Kacchon, he branches off from the others momentarily to express his disappointment with Nori-chan, most likely for giving them a mission involving Maki without Maki’s knowledge; a mission that saved her in the immediate but if anything made her emotional state worse. Noriko, for her part, is as surprised by Kacchon’s words as he is for saying them. She’s being pressed from both sides. I wonder what will happen, and if and how she’ll change, as conditions grow more desperate.

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Kiznaiver – 05

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Humans, particularly while young and coming into their own, need bonds, if for no other reason than to define their place in the world, and make them aware they’re not the only person who matters. Adolescence by and large, makes kids extremely arrogant, and that arrogance is manifested seven different ways among the Kiznaivers.

Let’s go ahead and add Sonozaki to the mix as an eighth teenager who internalizes the universe. The latest trial the actual adults have for the adults-in-training (which include Sonozaki) throws her for a loop. She isn’t at the mountain inn retreat out of duty, she’s there because Kacchon invited her.

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With another test looming in the background, the retreat still begins with a pleasant casualness and subtle excitement of the eight kids simulating a household for the first time. Divi-ing up the chores, getting to know  more about each other bit by bit; Tenga’s scheme to help the “emotionally heavy” Chidori; Maki and Yuta’s intriguing dance; Nico’s sidelong glances…the bonds are being enriched without the aid of shared mortal danger. It’s all very absorbing.

In fact, the first shared zap of physical pain doesn’t come until Sonozaki smacks Kacchon in the cheek while the two are keeping each other company alone in the dark. She’s not reubking him, just killing a mosquito, but Chidori sees what she wants to see (already suspecting Sonozaki is an interloper) and races off into the night in tears.

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I knew informal assigning of individual original deadly sins to the Kiznaivers was a risky (and not entirely necessary move), but it’s interesting to see the very complex emotions on display between Maki (AKA “firewood”) and Yuta as they share a scene in the kitchen.

Yuta is surprised Maki makes good omelette rice for him, as if feeling sorry that he’s hungry (his dietary restrictions kept him from having dinner with the others). He sparks a conversation about how he got fat, then invites her to share something about herself.

Maki, who I labeled as “pride”, seems reluctant, committed, even, to avoiding showing her true self to anyone. Yuta has seen reason to doubt her stuck-up facade (like the fact she made him dinner), and takes the bait when she asks him if he likes her chest.

“Chest”, though, is only her metaphor for the thing no one normally sees, and if it was seen, could change one’s feelings about the person completely. Maki is haunted and tormented by a ghost from the past in her private moments. That’s what she’s still trying to hide, but now that she’s a Kiznaiver, that may no longer be feasible.

It’s not the first think Maki and Yuta say to each other that means more than one thing. Maki takes things in a more explicitly amorous direction, saying things like “not caring if she breaks”, using the term from the ghost’s voice. Yuta thinks she’s only talking about masochism and sex, but after she jumps him (and inadvertently makes him admit he’s still a virgin), their liaison is interrupted by Yamada, their teacher.

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Yamada and Urushibara arrive (not informing the Kiznaivers that they brought Kacchon’s Kizuna’d bullies with them) and another high-stress test begins: a purported Test of Bravery so common to these kinds of inn/camping retreat episodes. One bully bashes in the room with a chainsaw, the other weild an axe and corners Chidori in a cabin.

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Fueled by fear and adrenaline, the six Kizzys other than Chidori rush out into the night and find their own graves, but when Nico hits a Gomorin and it goes down easily, they calm down a little, confident they can do this.

I loved Hisomu’s contrasting  looks throughout this ordeal; delighted rather than terrified by the sight of the graves and wielding a bucket and ladle instead of weapons. Maki’s outrage at Yuta talking big while cowering behind her was also a nice touch. This couple’s been through a lot tonight.

But the central figures of this test, not surprisingly, are Chidori and Kacchon. When Bully #1 is zapped by Nico’s blow, Bully #2 (#1’s childhood friend) is unmasked as well before Chidori, and collapses in a pile of woe-is-me, why-must-I-be-the-only-one-suffering tirade that hits very close to home for Chidori.

Hearing her own problems expressed almost verbatim from another has an immensely powerful effect. Chidori takes after the bully and lays it all bare: if the bully wants to die, he’d better give Kacchon his money back first.

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For the first time, Kacchon realizes the emotional pain of the all the bullying he endured expanded to Chidori. He only now knows the pain he endured and pretended didn’t exist at all was also hurting her because now their emotional pain is being shared as well. Not just between these two, but all seven Kizzys.

Now that he knows the error of his selfish ways, when Kacchon finds Chidori (in the middle of her tirade when she brings up how Sonozaki is also adding to her pain with her interloping), he demands the money back. He takes the stand Chidori always wanted him to take on his own. Now Kacchon gets her a little more.

What’s interesting is how connected Chidori and Kacchon truly have been for so long, not to mention Maki and Yuta (through their secrets); the Kizuna System is merely a catalyst to help them break through their inner shells and come to terms with the fact that everyone has their problems, everyone suffers, and knowing of each others’ pain and sharing in it, and being able to move past it (or make use of it) is a crucial element of life.

Those worried about a Tenga-Chidori thing can probably breathe easy for now, if Kacchon and Chidori’s closing scene together is any indication. And now it’s clear getting through the summer is another metaphor; for getting through adolescence.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 05 (Tardy)

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Ho boy: no sooner do I agree with Suna’s assessment that soul mates Takeo and Yamato could potentially grow old and wrinkled, we’re treated to a splash of cold water. On the one hand, I was a little disappointed the show turned back to the issue of poor communication and incorrect assumptions within the couple, but then I remembered: Takeo and Yamato are only a couple now thanks to Suna’s direct measures.

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That means Takeo’s inherent denseness hasn’t gone away, and it was only a matter of time before that denseness led to some kind bump in the road. And while I may be proven wrong in the very next episode, I’m willing to bet the “truth” Yamato is so desperately trying to but can’t communicate to Takeo has to do with his opinions about the kind of person she is.

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Takeo is the guy who puts his body on the line to help others, like saving a boy who fell into a river, almost every day, only for Suna, if he’s around, to get thanked. It’s perfectly reasonable then, for him to have a skewed perspective of the first and so far only girl he likes who likes him back.

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He also turns a lot of the societal discomfort with his immense size on himself with regards to physical contact with Yamato. When he bumps her on the train, it’s an accident, but one of his classmates saw it as a perfect opportunity to kiss a girl. When he touches her head, it’s to trap a ladybug.

Then, on a romantic, starlit walk, he makes it clear to her he “won’t lay a hair on her head until she’s grown up,” convinced she’s a good and pure girl. Heck, he’s even bringing Suna along on their dates because he’s worried he makes her nervous when they’re alone, which we know isn’t the case.

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It’s nice to finally get a peek at Yamato’s life when Takeo’s not around. It’s kind of lonely and sad seeing her all alone in that big dark house, trying to find the right words to text before sending another text that’s all bubbly and girly and promising of baked goods. She then sets to work baking, but doesn’t seem to be enjoying it in the slightest. It looks like she’s doing chores.

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When Suna’s big sister Ai returns home, we learn that she’d always carried a flame for the big galoot, and is not so much shocked as dejected that another girl got to him first. She also immediately suspects this girl sight unseen, because she finds it hard to believe anyone other than her would find Takeo boyfriend material…especially at first sight (though Suna doesn’t mention Takeo saved her).

When she arranges to meet Takeo and Yamato, she notices immediately that Yamato is hiding something, assuming all the worst things. And you know what? There are moments when we’re almost convinced something is up with Yamato, and she’s scared of breaking the big guy’s heart.

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Ai further inserts herself into Takeo’s affairs by offering to talk to Yamato on his behalf, believing it will be easier to talk woman-to-woman. Takeo, creepily perusing a teen-girl magazine to “learn how girls think” at the time, clearly needs all the help he can get. I’m not going to subscribe to Ai’s theories about infidelity—she’s demonstrated beyond all doubt that she really likes Takeo—but I am hoping Ai can get to the bottom of her troubles.

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As for my theory, I think Yamato doesn’t like how Takeo is so quick to call her a good and pure girl. I think she was hurt by all those good moments for leaning in for a kiss Takeo failed to capitalize on. I think she’s frustrated that he’s painting a not altogether accurate picture of who she is (remember, they haven’t known each other that long) She’s perpetuating that persona, and it’s wearing on her.

She wants to set him straight and tell him she wants more intimacy, not less, but can’t find the right words, and is worried he’ll reject her “impure” self. So the problem rattles around her head and keeps her up at night, sitting alone in the dark hugging a pillow.

But I for one think she’s worrying needlessly. All Takeo wants is for her to not be in knots, and I believe him when he says whatever she has to say to him, he’ll accept it. If my theory is correct—that Yamato wants to get closer—he’ll most likely be overjoyed.

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Ao Haru Ride – 04

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The leadership training retreat turns out to be something of a comedy of errors right from the start, but leaving her bag at his place and getting on the wrong train does result in Futaba and Kou spending more time alone together than they otherwise might have. Futaba also gets to see (and feel) Kou shirtless. But they end up being so late to the retreat that they have to write formal apologies.

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They also end up alienating two-thirds of the other three members of their group. Murao and Kou do not get along in their first encounter, Kominato takes her side and leaves with her, but not before taking Yuuri’s cupcake, revealing her dark side. The group is in tatters, which doesn’t speak well for the leadership skills of the reps. Then again, this is training; you don’t just hop on a bike and start riding; you have to skin a couple of knees.

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The thing is, Kou and Futaba are generally quite nice to one another throughout the episode, culminating in a very nicely-staged scene at night where Kou puts his head down on the table opposite Futaba’s, and they both end up turning to face one another. This is while Kou is, in spite of the devil-may-care attitude he tries to maintain, going out of his way to say nice things about her.

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They’ve rarely if ever been as close as they are here, but as lovely a moment it is while it lasts, it’s a bit premature, as Kou isn’t ready to admit how he feels about Futaba; not ready enough to be at the point where she’s nuzzling up to him. It’s panic and his long-honed defenses kicking in at the worst moment; he throws barbs her way, and she gets pissed. It’s a lasting pissed-ness, one the others can’t help but notice.

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Futaba and Kou act very much like an old couple locked into a familiar battle. Futaba snaps out of the funk on her own, realizing that it isn’t that she doesn’t love the New Kou, it’s that she still has a lot of work to do in getting to know him, as well as continuing to improve herself. Which is why it almost seems like we’re going to be subjected to a cliched gut-punch when she goes to make up with Kou and spots him smiling at a girl apparently confessing to him.

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That doesn’t happen, thankfully. Instead, there’s a twist: Futaba somehow thought two third-year boys were trees or something, and ended up clinging to them long enough that they thought she wanted to confess to them. But yet again, Kou steps up to rescue her, even going so far as to tell them she’s his girlfriend. She also starts to suspect that she may love Kou after all, since whatever he says to her affects her deeply and lastingly. He’s under her skin, and she’s pretty much under his too—why else would he keep finding ways to be with her?

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It’s weird watching a rom-com that satirizes shoujo (GSNK) right beside the very kind shoujo anime it enjoys satirizing. Ao Haru Ride has its share of funny moments, but they’re never ironic commentary on the genre the show inhabits. It’s playing things straight and sticking with the fundamentals, which is fine with me.

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Stray Observations:

ahr46Part of Murao’s hostility towards Kou stems from the fact she’s infatuated with his older brother, whom she gets alone and tries to make a move on but is rejected, not for the first time. Falling for a teacher who isn’t going to cross that line…not a pleasant position to be in.