Super Cub – 11 – No More Enemies to Fight

When Shii’s in big trouble, Koguma answers the call…literally! She’s able to spot a snapped twig on the cat trail and find Shii awkwardly submerged in water that must be somewhere in the forties (though the fact it’s not frozen solid indicates it’s not that cold out). Even so, Koguma took a risk she could find Shii fast enough, and that Shii—who is effin’ tiny—wouldn’t suffer hypothermia.

Everything works out, as Koguma, a picture of calm and collectedness, helps Shii out of the ravine, picks up all 70-or-so pounds of her, and plops her in her front basket for the ride to her place. That’s right, Koguma stole Reiko’s dream of carrying Shii along this way—but quite by necessity!

Once home, Koguma draws a bath and cooks a dinner of curry udon. Reiko, whom she called earlier, arrives with Shii’s ruined Alex Moulton, takes a bath of her own, and joins the other two for dinner. It’s the first time Koguma has had company, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it; but just slurps up her udon with the others, enjoying their company.

While washing the dishes, Reiko lets Shii know—quite tactlessly!—that her Mouton is donezo. Shii breaks down, cursing winter and begging Koguma to use her Super Cub to end the wretched season. Koguma deadpans that her Cub can’t do that…and seems a little sad that it can’t.

The next day, Shii’s parents thank Koguma and Reiko with a pass good for a year’s free coffee, sandwiches, and bread items, which they begin to cash in on immediately, much to Shii’s relief. If Shii ever thought they’d stop hanging out with her after her incident in the creek, then she needs to have more faith in her friends!

Shii gets what Koguma ruthlessly declares a “granny bike”, and the days of Winter continue on, only with no more preparations to make to their bikes or clothes. Then one morning Koguma hears on the radio that the cherry blossomes have bloomed early in Kagoshima. She proposes they go see them…together, escaping the winter by going where—as far as those trees are concerned—it’s already over.

It’s just what Shii needs to cheer up, and when she takes Koguma’s hands in friendship, Koguma’s world colors up bolder and faster than ever. She recounts how when it was her trudging her way uphill on her bike that she saw Shii glide past her on her Moulton, eventually inspiring her to buy her Cub, which led to her befriending Reiko.

Shii may not know it, but this all started with Koguma chasing her and her cooler, faster bike. What better way to thank her for the inspiration by giving her an early taste of spring?

Super Cub – 10 – The Girls of Winter

For me, there are few things better than waking up in a warm cozy bed, pulling open the curtains and discovering that the world has become white—or silver, as Koguma puts it—with a fresh, immaculate coat of snow. So when Koguma does just this, I can relate.

And while she prepares for a day in, as she doesn’t want to try to ride on the slick roads, Reiko gives her a call demanding she come to the cabin, and Koguma braves the suddenly very steep and terrifying hill from her apartment building. She’s rewarded with tire chains for her Cub.

Once properly affixed to the tires, Koguma and Reiko can truly go wherever the fuck they want, and they decide to head up into the mountains for a bit of mechanical horseplay. Koguma crashes her Cub for the first time ever, but thanks to the thick, soft snow, she’s able to pop right back up and remount her trusty steel steed.

She even follows Reiko in doing some jumps and then basically riding around so wildly that they both crash almost on purpose. Especially when they remove their helmets and layers, I kept waiting for a chime and message to pop up saying “Do not attempt. Messing around on motorbikes can cause serious injury or death”…but it never came!

We’ve seen Reiko continually battle Fujiyama, but this is the first time we’ve seen Koguma really cut loose and go wild, following her friend’s lead. There’s a wonderful sense of momentousness mixed with mundaneness in watching them share their usual bikeside meal with such a majestic alpine backdrop.

After lunch, it’s back to playing with their Cubs in the snow. Reiko starts a snowball fight, but Koguma escalates by peeling out her Cub so it shoots loads of snow on Reiko in retaliation. They wrap up their fun but tiring day with a relaxing cup of joe at Buerre, assuring Shii that she can join them next time, with Reiko joking that she’ll stuff her in her cargo box.

As winter goes on, Koguma and Reiko continue to augment their riding kit with ever-thicker, warmer, tougher gear. All the while, Koguma can tell Shii is working hard on converting part of Buerre to an Italian café. While having coffee there with Shii out, her dad says he’s glad she’s finally enjoying the quirky Alex Moulton bike he gave her, and that it’s as if she’s trying to catch up to Koguma and Reiko. But for the record, he’s happy the girls are insipiring Shii.

Unfortunately, while neither Koguma nor Reiko have ever suffered any serious injuries from riding, Shii isn’t so lucky on her Moulton. I’d say it was inevitable the winter would claim someone, but I figured it would be one of the girls suffering a fever or something. Certainly not the realization of a parent’s worst and most absurd fears: “What if you were in a ditch somewhere?!”

Well, Shii is in a ditch, half submerged in icy water and apparently unable to move. Thankfully she’s able to call Koguma, and Koguma answers. Hopefully she (perhaps with help from Reiko and Shii’s parents) will track her down and she’ll be okay. But that doesn’t lessen the sheer horror of seeing Shii in that position, or the audacity of the episode simply ending without getting her out of danger!

Super Cub – 09 – Winter Is Coming

An autumnal cold snap suddenly makes real what had merely been abstract: Koguma and Reiko aren’t quite ready for the full-on chill of Winter. Little things like Reiko warming her feet on her Hunter Cub’s motor offer temporary relief, but more stringent measures will soon be needed.

Despite the cold, Shii braves the outside to ask if she can eat lunch with Koguma and Reiko. These two are so tight-knit now it won’t be easy to penetrate their circle of two, especially without a Cub of her own, but Shii does have one thing at her command: copious amounts of delicious hot drinks.

Her hot Italian milk tea with a touch of grappa is so good, Reiko jokingly contemplates stuffing the tiny Shii in her cargo box so she can always have a hot drink when she needs one. And speaking of knit, when she hears of Koguma’s money problems, she offers her an oversized cardigan made of durable, minimally processed abrasive wool.

While it is indeed warm, it’s also big enough to sleep in, but Koguma hatches a new plan, Reiko removes her cargo box, and Shii rides double with her way too fast for her comfort as they race back to school before the gate closes. There, the home ec teacher regards the rare material with awe, and is more than happy to convert the huge cardigan into a jacket liner and stockings for Reiko. There’s even enough for a Thermos cozy for Shii!

The first time Koguma rides with the new woolly lining, she beams with joy and the episode’s color bumps up. Reiko is also happy that she can be warm and fashionable with her stockings. With the more saturated color comes another patented Super Cub wordless sequence, accompanied by an austere, minimalist piano and trumpet piece.

Unfortunately, the woolly upgrades only last so long, as soon both Koguma and Reiko are uncomfortably cold on their steeds. Even so, Reiko is adamant about not procuring a windshield, which she dismisses as deeply uncool.

In another example of how Shii hasn’t quite clawed her way into their circle of two, they leave her in the dust with nary a word to her when they ride off to the store. Poor Shii! Still, I’m sure in time she’ll be as close to the other two as they are to each other; this stuff doesn’t happen overnight.

Koguma is staring at the 4000-yen price tag of a Super Cub windshield when a clerk removes it from the display and sells it; turns out it’s the last one. An affiliate has both Super and Hunter shields in stock, but the girls shake their heads: Koguma can’t bear the cost, while Reiko can’t bear the lameness.

Even so, they visit the resident Cub collector from whom Koguma procured her cargo box, and each of them tries out an old battered Cub with a windshield…and they’re both sold!

They order their shields, and then work together mounting them to their bikes without anyone else’s help. Once they’re done, they hop on, the color bumps up again, and they just keep riding, thanks both to the protection of their windshields and their high spirits.

As Reiko admits while drinking more of Shii’s coffee (honestly I worry about the girls’ caffeine intake now that they’ve met Shii): “If it works better, it’s not ugly.” She initially pooh-poohed windshields, but that was before she experienced just how much of a difference they make. They don’t just make winter riding bearable, they make it fun.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Super Cub – 08 – United Nations

The bike wives have become so close they’re now casually drinking out of one another’s Thermoses. Fall is transitioning into winter, which is no joke for riders. Kitting out their rides to battle the coming cold (Koguma’s first, by the way) means having to spend a lot of coin, which means vending machine coffee is a luxury best avoided.

It’s karmic providence, then, when Shii invites the girls to her family’s café, which looks like an inn straight out of Tyrol (in Austria), but has the French name Buerre, while inside resembles both a german bakery, a British sandwich shop, and an nifty fifties American diner. It’s about as all over the place as Koguma isn’t, but it has its charm.

More to the point, the coffee is free due to their herosim during the cultural festival, and it is also excellent, whether it’s Shii’s or that of her father, who quit the corporate rat race in Tokyo to pursue his scattershot passion. The coffee is so good, the color in Koguma’s world gets jacked up to eleven!

When not mainlining caffeine at Shii’s place, Koguma and Reiko hit up a job lot store for discount winter outfitting. Reiko is quickly distracted by rare firearms, drawing Koguma’s subtle ire, but then Koguma falls in love with a particularly nifty bento box that reminded me of Rin’s little portable camp grill—and may well be similarly much sought-after on the internet marketplace!

It may not be a purchase that helps winter-proof her Cub, but it’s a sign that Koguma will spoil herself on occasion, and has also begun to cook better lunches than the glorified microwavable salt pouches she choked down at the start of the series. She also manages to procure some handlebar covers within her budget, and is immediately glad she did so, as they keep the cold wind off her hands and out of her jacket sleeves.

While Reiko initially pooh-poohs the mod as too “old fogey”, one ride on Koguma’s Cub and she’s totally sold, hopping on the ‘net to buy the exact same pair of covers. They return to Shii’s family’s café and meet her Americanophile mom, whose yellow pickup truck and 50s outfit explain the diner half of the business. While her mom is Mrs. America and her dad is Herr Deutschland, Shii is a “tiny sliver of Italy”—tiny, but tenacious!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Talentless Nana – 09 – Going Green

As expected, Nana doesn’t have Habu’s incriminating phone on her person anymore. She ditched it before she gathered the others to the cliff to tell her story. Specifically, she left it on and with the text ready to send with a zombie’s finger placed on the “send” button, knowing that as the afternoon sun rose the finger would melt, placing sufficient pressure to hit “send.”

With Kyouya proven wrong in sight of everyone, Michiru demands he apologize to Nana”-shan”, while Nana takes the high road and shakes hands to make up with him. Still, Kyouya still thinks something is off…he merely checkmated Nana too early. Now he’ll have the dual tasks of scrounging up sufficient evidence and rebuilding the trust of the others.

That night, while Nana would prefer to get some sleep, she remains on guard in order to keep up appearances as heroic class leader. She heads her inner debate off at the pass about who among the students is “good” or “bad”; she’s here to do her duty. Michiru visits her and insists she close her eyes and rest while she keeps watch for her. When Nana wakes up, she has a box-cutter at her throat…held there by Michiru.

Now represented by green light to Nana’s red and Kyouya’s blue, Michiru demands to know Nana’s real power. Nana uses her deductive skill to “read” Michiru’s mind, then snatches the cutter when she drops her guard for a moment. This only adds to the intrigue for Michiru, who now knows Nana has combat training and is “no ordinary girl.”

So yeah, Nana was fooled by sweet lil’ Michiru this whole time, huh? We all were, it would seem. The next day, Michiru tries to expose the fact Nana can’t really read minds, making her exhaust all of her excuses and picking away at her credibility in the eyes of the class. However, yet again Nana outsmarts her adversary, pinning a note on her back that everyone else is thinking about, proving she can read their minds.

Nana has Michiru meet her at the cliff to ask the question: Where is the real Michiru? For one thing, Nana has noticed she hasn’t been addressing her with the cutesy “-shan” article. For another, her hand is bandaged, while the real Michiru would have healed herself. With nothing to lose by doing so, “Michiru” then reveals his true identity: Tachibana Jin.

Jin is five years older than Nana and the others, having been part of a previous class on the island. Unlike the present class so far, Jin’s class gradually stopped going to class, split into factions, and fought a bloody civil war amongst each other, while the faculty simply fled the island as if to let it happen.

He tells her his backstory over coffee in a moonlit cove, how after the last of his classmates died he transformed into a bird and flew home, only to be approached by shadowy government officials who wanted him dead. He flew back to try to stop history from repeating, but now finds there’s a new variable in the equation: Nana, a serial killer hidden among the others.

Jin was the cat Nana saved from the burning shed, and he commends her for bringing Yuuka to justice, so in order to avoid a repeat of the civil war, he’d like to make a deal with her: she’ll tell him what he wants to know, and he’ll keep quiet about her true intentions on the island. Nana says no deal, as she’s loath to make them with people who don’t notice their coffee was poisoned.

As Jin apparently dies, Nana prepares to call the “Committee” to report his presence on the island when her phone is pulled out of her hand…by “Kyouya”. Moments later, it’s Michiru, telling Nana “a magician always fails at the start of the show to misdirect the audience,” citing Michiru’s bandage as a feint. He then transforms into Seiya to restrain Nana’s foot with ice.

Turns out Jin Talent isn’t just “playing dress-up”, but copying the Talents of those he copies as well. He reveals he won the battle royale by killing everyone else. If he can copy Kyouya’s appearance, it means he’s invincible…albeit only in Kyouya’s form. That slight loophole could be all Nana has against him—he can only be one person and have one Talent at a time.

It could also mean it’s time for Nana and the real Kyouya to join forces…if she’s able to even escape from Jin’s clutches and gaze. In any case, their deal is probably off. Jin has enough evidence to expose and convict her, but considering he killed his whole class to assert his superiority, they’d seem no better with him leading them!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Oregairu 3 – 07 – The “Psycho” Project

Zaimokuza introduces Hikki and Yui to Hatano and Sagami of the gaming club, who harbor a very crude opinion of Iroha. Hikki manages to convince them they’ll be better positioned to influence next year’s prom if they help him this year—and that one eventually comes to see Iroha’s “wickedness” as “cuteness” in time.

As the newly-formed team forms some broad strokes, Yui suggests they try to ally with a neighboring school they’ve already had dealings with in order to make their project both more realistic and more likely to be pooh-poohed by the PTA. That’s right, Orimoto Kaori and Tamanawa are back!

While Tamanawa has ditched all the corporate lingo, the gesticulating and weird ticks remain. So naturally, his and Hikki’s discussion of the feasibility of the plan in its current state unfolds as a EPIC RAP BATTLE, complete with Kaori punctuating verses with her trademark vapid 2-3 word comments.

I cannot convey with words how unexpected and delightful this was. It kicked all the ass. Tamanawa and Kaori like the idea, but the former wants a little more focus and detail before committing to cooperation. They’re also enthusiastic about hanging out socially some time soon.

Back in the gaming club, Yui vetoes the rest of the committee’s decision to make her “Yahallo” their official greeting, while Zaimokuza comes up with a name for said committee: “The Saiko Project.” Sadly, his explanation is cut off by Hikki…I wanted to hear it!

Hikki steps out to speak to Hayato about collaboration, but spots Yukino with the same coffee he usually drinks, taking a break by herself. Hikki approaches her and she makes room on the bench, and the two proceed to be extremely cute, cozy, and cordial in their dialogue, like two soldiers on opposite sides of the battle calling a brief time-out to shoot the breeze.

Then Yui arrives, and made what had been pretty comfortable situation a lot more awkward. Yukino gets up to leave without saying anything, leading Yui to ask if she’s avoiding her. Yui informs her that she’s helping Hikki, but once the prom planning competition is over, she hugs her and lists all of the things she wants to do with her, and how everything will be okay because those things are on the horizon.

While these are all nice things to aspire to, they also can’t help but smack of desperation, as if not saying them straight-out might mean they won’t happen. But more than that, Yui seems to be getting a bit ahead of herself. I’ll always hope the three can remain close in some capacity down the road, but the fact is we and they just don’t know that yet. Even so, neither Hikki nor Yukino were ready, willing, or even tactless enough to talk Yui down.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 10 – Making an Effort

First of all, thank goodness for the Fukudas, for hosting a party that doubles as an excuse to bring Rikuo and Shinako to see each other. Kozue even insists Rikuo give Shinako the moonstone pendant his boss gave him.

When he can’t hide the gift’s provenance, Shinako is still charmed by his honesty with her, and feels good about it being the first gift he’s ever given a woman. It’s a sign they’re starting to find some comfort in each others’ romantic inexperience. Rikuo’s gesture also enables Shinako to suggest they spend New Year’s Eve together.

It’s ironic, then, that the woman who ends up at Rikuo’s place that night isn’t Shinako, but Haru, who waited outside his door for untold hours in the cold. Rikuo isn’t so cold-hearted he won’t offer her the warmth of his apartment and something warm to drink. Haru’s been dealing with a lack of Rikuo so long she can’t help giving him a big hug.

While Rikuo’s slightly stronger insistence Haru stop “this kind of thing” makes for a heartbreaking interaction between the two—not to mention Haru settling for way too little in my book—there’s a nobility in her sticking this out regardless, even if she comes off as clingy or desperate, she’s making the effort to see him because she likes him, so he should cut her some slack.

Speaking of effort, neither Shinako or Rikuo call each other to make plans until New Year’s Eve. Rikuo eventually is the one to call her, and the call is awkward, but also appreciated. Both of them accept partial responsibility for the temporary communications breakdown, since both were anxious about what form their New Years Eve date would take.

Thankfully, once they end up at a restaurant together and have some drinks, the two hit it off splendidly, and are able to talk naturally, have fun together, and talk about one another in ways beyond mere small talk.

The romantic tension increases a hundredfold when Shinako finally  decides to take the initiative (again) and invite Rikuo to her place (again). Thankfully the show skips the long hallway walk and the door-opening and we finally have the two in the same apartment together after spending a wonderful evening together—an evening that marks a literal new beginning with the new year, but also a different kind of beginning for their relationship…hopefully!

Again, Shinako finds herself apologizing for so slowly realizing that it’s possible to experience a kind of love that’s different from her first; that of Rou’s brother. Expanding her view of what forms love takes makes it easier for her to avoid pitting those two loves against each other, and she makes sure Rikuo knows she wants to move forward and learn what forms this new love takes.

Even if she has to take it slow, it’s something she wants to do. Rikuo pulls her into a passionate embrace and the two come close to a kiss, but ultimately pull away amicably. Rikuo no doubt respects Shinako’s desire to take things slow and it probably makes a lot of sense for him as well—taking a long friendship to another place is tricky in the best of conditions.

We then shift somewhat abruptly from the beautiful tension of Shinako’s apartment to the dread of Haru alone in her vast accommodations after spending the evening with her mom and her new husband. Something goes bump in the night, Haru investigates, and then Rikuo gets a phone call he reacts to with shock.

A lot can happen in the remaining eight episodes, and it’s telling that the “Game Over” video game ED has already been replaced with a new ED that gives the four protagonists relatively equal treatment.

I’m worried that this cliffhanger-y final scene portends a sudden stamping-out of the slight but very meaningful progress Rikuo and Shinako made this week. Why introduce a “bump in the night” if Haru isn’t about to be in some kind of danger or trouble?

Tower of God – 05 – Cheap Instant Coffee in a Fine Ceramic Bowl

“What do you *mean* you didn’t notice me putting my hair up? HMMPH!”

This episode sputters a bit in the first half, starting with a mostly redundant explanation Khun’s Crown gambit (other characters catching up to where we are), and a third round of fighting Khun admits is a waste of time. Rather than face the new challengers directly, Khun uses three allies he secured in the first test, when he was supposed to be killing them. The allies prove more than capable of eliminating all comers.

That leads to the fourth and final round of the Crown Game, involving a party consisting of someone who has both the looks and strength to be a Princess of Jahad like Yuri, a towering beast-man in the mold of Rak, and…Rachel. She sidles up to the throne and mutters to Bam that they won’t steal his crown; they’re apparently there to protect it. Only the remaining challengers prove too much for them, and Rachel is injured and tossed into the air.

Bam leaves the throne to catch her, and the two meet eyes, leaving no doubt for Bam of who she is, and that she means more to him than the throne, the crown, or the whole damn Tower. Things look bad for them both when an enormous power suddenly awakens in Bam, blasting the challengers away. Black March seemingly stops time to warn Bam about losing control before knocking him unconscious.

With the Crown destroyed by Bam’s blast (which Lero Ro thinks might’ve been an instance of Bam becoming Shinsu itself) the game is ended without a winner. Lero meets with Yu Han Sung, who treats him to powdered caffe latte served ironically in a chawan. Han tells Lero that the purpose of the tests in the first place isn’t to gauge one’s worthiness, but to ascertain whether they pose any threat to the Tower.

It’s a nice scene between two administrators, but Han clearly knows more than Lero, and Lero knows not to trust the word of someone in Han’s position. Lero also gave his teams three days off following the Crown Game, but with only one day to go, Bam is still unconscious despite Khun’s urgings. That’s when a recovered Rachel arrives with a request for Khun. Based on her behavior thus far, I wouldn’t be shocked if she wanted Khun’s cooperation in keeping her and Bam as apart as possible.

P.S. I love the super-energizing OP, with its bopping theme performed by a Korean boy band Stray Kids, but the ED is the one of the laziest things I’ve ever seen, consisting of a static shot of an intermittently napping Rachel. At first I thought this was a temporary sequence until the “final” ED animation was complete, but apparently it isn’t, which is strange because…there’s just not much there.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 04 – Brains Beat BOSS-Drinking Brawn

Nishikata is the best arm wrestler in his class, due to the fact he does three push-ups for every time Takagi teases him during the day. But all that extra brawn is for naught as long as he doesn’t exercise that most important of “muscles”—his head.

Case in point: Takagi genially challenges him to arm wrestle, and in the first round starts she pretends to be far weaker than him, and simply waits for him to let his guard down. In round two, Nishikata is done playing around, but is then flustered when she asks if he wants to hold hands walking home.

In both cases, Nishikata’s superior strength is neutralized by Takagi’s mind games. And yet all Nishikata will do as a result of his losses is do more push-ups. After all, he simply can’t predict every trick Takagi has up her sleeve. He could plan 100 moves in advance and she’d be ready with Move 101.

After Hina tries to make a big display of how mature and grown-up she is by staring out the window, sighing, and talking about the impermanence of things (mostly foods) which only leads to Yukari and Sanae laughing at her, Nishikata decides to show Takagi how mature he is by taking the advice of one of his guy mates (never a good idea) and drinking the bitterest coffee he can buy.

That coffee, clearly a non-copyright-infringing stand-in for Suntory BOSS, proves way too bitter for him to not make all the faces one expects of someone who hates coffee, and in addition to being a Teasing Master Takagi is also mastered reading Nishikata’s face.

She does the practical (and truly mature) thing and buys a delicious melon soda, and offers Nishikata a sip, pointing out it would be an indirect kiss. To accept her offer would actually show maturity on his part, since an indirect kiss shouldn’t be a big deal to a grown-up.

Not to mention Takagi isn’t about to stop teasing him even if he convincingly enjoyed a can of BOSS; she’d simply devise new ways to tease him. It’s what she does.

Finally, Takagi meets Nishikata for their walk to school, but for once without her bike. He recalls her saying something about the brakes on their last walk, and assumes that’s the reason why, but Takagi warns him that if he guesses wrong it’s an “instant loss,” so he ponders other reasons as they take detours not possible with a bike.

Ultimately, Nishikata sticks with his brake answer, thinking Takagi was throwing a bunch of other potential reasons (stairs, hopscotch, cats) as a distraction. But of course, he’s wrong. Takagi actually had two genuine reasons that he did not consider. One, she didn’t bring her bike because she wanted to watch him struggle to determine the reason. Two, she actually did, and does, want to hold hands with Nishikata, hence no bike.

Of course, whether it’s dropping her -san or sipping from her can or holding her hand, Nishikata remains nervously reticent, despite now being a second-year. Because he makes her laugh so much, this doesn’t seem to bother Takagi so much, but as Hina says, nothing lasts forever, so one would hope that applies to Takagi’s patience.

At some point, Nishikata is going to have to reckon with the fact a girl likes him, and he likes her back, and pursuing that is more important than winning and losing silly games.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 12 (Fin) – Never Gonna Give Up, Never Gonna Let Down

For the record, I was never against Akira running again, I just wanted it to be because she wanted to do it, not because Haruka or anyone else compelled her to. In any hard endeavor, if your heart isn’t in something, quality suffers, and its evident for all.

What I learned from this finale is that both Akira and Masami got nudges of varying kinds from their respective best friends. One of them, Haruka, may have pushed a little to far in her zealousness, but to her credit, is aware of that, and how it may well be selfish of her to put Akira on the spot.

At the same time, Haruka is being true to what she wants, even if it’s selfish or may not work out; even if Akira never speaks to her again, she had to make her stand, in case there was just the slightest glimmer of an ember of passion remaining in post-op Akira’s heart.

Despite the differing levels of intensity, both “friend nudges” ultimately succeed, because there were indeed embers in the hearts of both Akira and Masami, which only needed a little bit of oxygen to reignite. Perhaps due to how receptive he was to Chihiro’s advice, Masami is back to belting out pages through the night, nearly causing a dozen cigarette fires.

It’s at this point that we return to the budding romance of Nishida and Yoshizawa, never an unwelcome prospect owing to their infectious chemistry and general adorability. Both are unsure of their futures, but while Yoshizawa is simply going to college and will figure out what to do later, Nishida has decided to start on the path of hair-styling.

Yoshizawa was the one that nudged her in that direction, fortifying her courage with his confidence in her ability and satisfaction with the work she’s done and, if she’ll have him, will continue to do into the future. Bawwww.

Meanwhile, Haruka continues to wait for Akira, spotting two middle schoolers sharing a scarf while scouting the high school and remembering when she and Akira did the same exact thing, because it was a school that, according to its name, can “see the wind,” something they wanted to do together.

While Kondo is away at the Head Office again, sparking rumors that he’s soon to be promoted, his son Yuuto suddenly asks Akira if she’s fast, and whether she’ll teach him. Akira just as suddenly agrees, and does a really good job!

When Yuuto falls, he asks if he wants a break, but he refuses, not wanting to give up; wanting to reach the finish line even if he’s last, or else it will feel like he never ran. Just when it sounds like a “from the mouths of babes” moment, Yuuto makes it clear it was his dad that said this stuff to him, adding that he wasn’t going to give up either.

When she catches Kondo in the office, he thanks her for teaching his son, and she tells him what Yuuto told her. Akira can tell he’s gotten back into writing novels, and he tells her he’s essentially added a promise to a promise one from which he’s both suffered and learned, wondering out loud if she has a similar promise she’s forgotten.

That night, she remembers. Unpleasant and overdone as it was, Haruka’s confrontation nevertheless helped unsheath a still-warm ember in her heart. Kondo’s inspiring words and those of his son then reignited it.

Kondo finally announces why he’s been at the head office so much: it’s not that he’s getting promoted, but he has to master a new menu…which he hasn’t been able to do. His coworkers assume it’s another episode of their pitiable bed-headed manager bumbling about again…but nobody knows that he hasn’t kept up with the new menu because he’s so absorbed in writing. Nobody, that is, except Akira.

When he even leaves the menu book behind, Akira decides to tracks him down to return it. She remembers that after the fall that tore her Achilles, Haruka urged her to get back up, and she did, limping across the finish line. She didn’t give up.

Kondou encounter her in a light jog, and after what happened the last time she chased someone down, Kondou is worried. But Akira is perfectly fine, telling him “It’ll stop raining soon.”

Kondou is about to say something but is interrupted by a phone call—no doubt the head office tearing him a new one. But as Tachibana quietly walks away, the rain stops, the clouds part, and a lusciously gorgeous deep blue sky opens up, reflected in the pools of fallen rain.

He calls out her name once more, and she comes running, practically throwing herself into his arms. And she’s fine, no re-aggravation. They resolve to fulfill their own promises—his writing, her running—they’ll let each other know right away, whenever that may be. Akira then texts Haruka, indicating her desire for them to “see the wind” together again.

It’s a lovely end to a lovely show to put a very necessary pause on their romance. Rekindling fires is one thing, keeping them going long and strong is another. It takes time, dedication, effort, and care. As such, I imagine by the time Akira makes some good progress fulfilling her promise, she’ll be sufficiently old to remove the elephant from the room of their relationship.

However things go, it’s good to see Akira and Kondou end up in such a good place. They both know what they have to do, but more importantly, they know what they want to do, and are going to give it their all—come what may.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 11

When Haruka learns that a runner from another school fully recovered from the same injury Akira suffered to best her personal 100-meter time, and could threaten Akira’s tournament record, she redoubles her efforts to bring Akira back in the fold, even going so far as to follow her to her workplace.

Kondou sees that a girl from Akira’s school is a customer, and that can tell the conversation isn’t a pleasant one. Let’s get one thing straight: Haruka isn’t here to ask Akira what she wants or how she feels. Haruka is there to tell Akira what Haruka wants—and how sad she’ll be if she doesn’t get it.

She marches in there judging Akira’s choice to work an honest job rather than risk re-injuring herself, saying she’ll “always be waiting” for Akira to come around to wanting to run again, as if that’s the only acceptable path for her. Then she storms off without letting Akira so much as respond.

It’s frankly sickening to watch someone who purports to care about Akira only seem to be interested in what would make herself happy—not to mention shore up her track team. If their roles were reversed, I doubt Akira would treat her so awfully.

Thankfully we get a pleasant palate-cleanser in the form of Chihiro paying Kondou a surprise visit with a brand-new siphon coffee maker. Make no mistake: Chihiro isn’t there just for Kondou’s benefit, he came to ground himself with an old friend he still holds in high regard.

Kondou looks at Chihiro’s success in the same way Haruka looks at Akira’s records and talent—from the outside. The book being made into a movie is a “piece of shit” in Chihiro’s mind, and the more successful he gets, the more expectations mount (much as they did for Akira before her injury), and the more “shit” he feels he has to put out.

Rather than voice any disappointment, Chihiro actually lauds Kondou for living an honest life. Unlike Akira giving up running cold turkey, Kondou has always to maintain the obsession to write, even if it’s for nobody but himself, and even if he’s too excited to do the first one-minute novel in a long time.

Chihiro isn’t asking him to quit being a manager and start selling novels…but he urges Kondou not to give up that obsession, even if it’s not as big a part of his life as it was. Granted, Chihiro and Kondou are older and more matured by life experience, but the contrast between their equitable dynamic and Haruka’s totally unfair one-sided oppression of Akira couldn’t be starker.

Chihiro and Haruka, who are still fully in the respective games their friends left, have similar messages. I’ve always seen Akira as not giving up or running away from track, but simply moving on, while Kondou gives his old habit of late-night writing another go after Chihiro’s visit.

That same night, Akira takes out her cleats, suggesting as terribly as she expressed it, Haruka was right that Akira still yearns to run. But the next day when a customer forgets a phone and she can’t get it back to them without running, she doesn’t run this time, as the camera pulls in on her recently repaired Achilles. I can’t blame her, considering what happened the last time she did.

In the restaurant office, Akira sees that Kondou hasn’t filled out her shift schedule yet with her requested increased shifts, and when he asks her if there’s “anything else she wants to do” besides work there all the time, she should do that. This angers Akira, because it’s almost as if everyone’s ganging up on her…even the man she has feelings for.

The fact of the matter is, even if it’s objectively wrong for Akira to not even consider giving running another go, it’s her goddamn RIGHT to be wrong, no one else’s. Yes, she’s young, and her emotions on this matter are all over the place.

She might not be able to easily answer the question “do you want to run?” if asked because she’s so afraid of the possibility she just can’t do it anymore. Or maybe she really truly doesn’t want to run. In either case, it’s her choice to make. Haruka may have enough confidence in her for the both of them, but at the end of the day…it ain’t her Achilles.

Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 07

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Valentine’s Day arrives unheralded,  and the specific nature of Tanaka’s chocolate—fancy and homemade with love—and Ohta’s—obligatory, cheap, and bitter—leave the two scratching their heads as to who it could be, while the ransom-style note gives it a sinister aura.

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Valentines ends up coming as much as a surprise for Tanaka and Ohta as it does for all their female friends. Miyano didn’t think of them as the opposite sex, Shiraishi forgot because she was a loner for so long such holidays were always meaningless, and Echizen…for some reason she’s not in the running as a culprit.

That leaves…well, no one Tanaka and Ohta know. The show teases us with cuts to other girls. Tanaka has a very frank talk with Ohta about how he’s interested in girls, but waiting for someone to inspire him to make the effort to act. Then, not long after a pocket voice recorder (which is recording) falls out of Tanaka’s bag, his sister Rino appears.

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Is Rino the culprit? Yes she is; the boys just don’t know it yet. At last we meet, Tanaka’s sister! I would not have guessed Valentines would be the vehicle in which she’d be introduced, but it’s clear she cares for her brother a great deal and sees Ohta as not only an enabler for his listlessness, but a rival for his time and attention.

Like all things in Tanaka, she’s not some awful crazed brocon little sister, but something a lot subtler. Giving Ohta dark chocolate and refusing to let him put milk or sugar in his coffee were inspired tactics; the voice recorder and ransom note…less so.

Rino was no revelation, but I liked her well enough and hope to see more of her as she works to be more present in Tanaka’s life outside of home, meeting more of his friends in the process. And knowing that Tanaka is at least romantically aware, if not particularly active, was another nice nugget in his character.

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Dagashi Kashi – 01 (First Impressions)

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Simply put, Dagashi Kashi is a taut, crafty, stylish laugh-riot. It is life from lifelessness. I had an absolute gas watching it, and it never failed to surprise me with a goofy facial expression here or a momentary trip to a different genre there. And the premise should prove to be a veritable goldmine of comedic and romantic material.

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The cast is lean, but makes every shot count: Shikada Kokonotsu (“Coconuts” to his friends-I’ll call him Koko) is the son of an animated small-town candy shop owner, Shikada You (a hilarious Fujiwara Kenji), who really wants him to succeed him as “ninth generation head”, but he’s currently in his mangaka stage.

Enter Shidare Hotaru of the famous Shidare candy company, who is looking for You but encounters Koko instead and immediately sets to work testing his confectionery instincts with umaibo.

The classic gothic lolita garb-donning young woman proves extremely eccentric, and well, very animated. Not just a pretty face with concentric irises, she’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys, and country boy Koko is super ultra intrigued. Taketatsu Ayana really sinks her teeth into the role with relish.

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In fact, once You returns, Koko gets swept up in the combined madness of his dad and Hotaru, who formally relays her father’s desire for You to come work for his company. You flatly refuses, but when Hotaru hears of You’s desire for Koko to inherit shop, she makes a counter-proposal on the spot: if she can convince Koko to take over the shop, his dad will take the job.

She may be mad as a hatter, but she knows what she’s doing when it comes to business and snacks. I myself know the joy of extravagantly shoving too many hot fries down my gullet. One of life’s little thrills!

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You wastes no time mistaking Hotaru for Koko’s girlfriend, which Koko vehemently denies (while blushing, natch) but Hotaru doesn’t dismiss the idea. She doesn’t say anything about it, actually. That segues nicely to Koko’s present love interest in the town, Endou Saya, whose brother Tou is Koko’s best mate (Saya is ably voiced by Numakura Manami)

Koko is oblivious to Saya’s feelings, but never fails to compliment her coffee as the only coffee he ever drinks. When a possible rival in love is brought up, she shows off her fiery temper, but even dropping dozens of sugar cubes in Koko’s coffee doesn’t faze him.

When Saya comes face-to-face with her competition, it’s quite by accident—as in Hotaru had an accident on her bike while too closely inspecting the message on her popsicle stick, and fell into a muddy rice paddock.

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Saya gets Hotaru in the shower, but when Tou walks in on Hotaru and sees her nakked, Hotaru doesn’t even flinch, introducing herself and apologizing for putting Tou out. Later while enjoying some free coffee (which Hotaru agrees is wonderful), she breaks out some “Young Donuts” out of seemingly nowhere. No matter what, Hotaru seems to be equipped with the right snacks for the right job.

There, Hotaru regails Saya about her mission and the “contract”she’s ended up in, which should keep her in town for the foreseeable future. Of course, she’s so flowery and dramatic and vague, it’s as if she’s telling some kind of fantasy epic. Which is kinda is, to her. Her victory is dependent on convincing “the one who would succeed the legend.” This should be a sweet ride.

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