Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 06 – The Great Destroyer

“Why are you enjoying this so much?”
“Because it’s not my problem.”
—Rikuo and Kinoshita on why I love this show

Just as things were attaining a semblance of balance, enter Yuzuhara Chika, Rikuo’s high school ex-girlfriend, her hair now kissed by bottled fire and voiced by the often fiery Kitamura Eri. She’s behind on rent and happened to be passing by, and asks if she can crash at Rikuo’s until she’s back on her feet financially.

That’s right, YwU is not quite done introducing new characters at the expense of the core trio. That’s probably in part due to the fact we’re now only a third through an 18-episode series, not halfway through a 12-parter.

Kinoshita warns Rikuo that Chika is a serial destroyer of bands due to her penchant for ginning up relationshop drama among the members. There’s every indication Chika came to Rikuo because she tends to use usable people and he’s an easy mark, but she proves to be a model freeloader, cooking, cleaning, welcoming him home, all things he’s used to doing alone.

One day while readying dinner, Chika mistakes Rikuo collapsing from fever for a sexual advance, and her eyes narrow as she consents…only Rikuo isn’t propositioning, he’s ill. And so the time arrives when Rikuo is in need of being nursed back to health, and Haru is nowhere to be found, because Rikuo hasn’t told her about Chika.

When they find out from Kinoshita that Rikuo is sick, it’s because Minako accidentally wandered to the konbini after drinking with her friends (who wouldn’t leave her alone about not ever being in a relationship) while Haru is already loitering there.

Whether due to her guilt about him “setting up her wires—i.e. relying on him when it’s convenient—or because she’s knocked back a few, or both, she accompanies Haru, and they share in the utter shock of a third pretty woman at Rikuo’s apartment that late at night.

Haru is NOT okay with this—Rikuo is as good as a cheater in her book—but while Minako is also upset, she says she only has herself to blame for rejecting him. Hearts are fickle, and expecting Rikuo to keep standing still and waiting for her wasn’t realistic.

After being confronted by a steamed Haru (and saying precisely the right thing to have a milk crate thrown in his face), Rikuo stops by Minako, but the sight of her expression…frightens him (in a nice touch, we never see the face he sees). Minako is angry too.

During another homemade meal, Chika and Rikuo talk more about why things ended and who they are. Chika plays the piano for a living and was always good at it, but at first it was because she was forced to play. She’s always wanted to be liked, and saying no can make people not like you, even if she’s never fallen in love or been “deeply invested” in anything. Sound familiar?

She also breaks it to Rikuo that telling him he didn’t understand her was just an excuse she gave to break up with him so she could date a new guy she liked more. “Understanding” her more, then or now, wouldn’t have made any difference, so there’s nothing for him to regret regarding that. I’m not sure if he should feel better or worse about that!

Minako stops by Rikuo’s again, and Chika finally clears the air, assuring her that she simply asked for help from a guy she knew would help, and doesn’t want “things to get ruined” because of her (again, allegedly). Yet again, Minako feels bad, because she’s not actually Rikuo’s girlfriend, as Chika initially assumes.

Chika dated Rikuo for just four months in high school, but Minako straight up turned him down! I’m sure her relief Chika is not interested is mixed with guilt that she has some kind of claim on Rikuo. But, well, she clearly does, doesn’t she? She never dismissed Haru’s declaration of war, and Chika’s sudden appearance on the battlefield put things in perspective.

I can harp on precious little time spent on the Haru/Minako/Rikuo triangle so that a new player could take the stage, but honestly I found Chika’s brutal honesty with her feelings and motivations refreshing, right up to her polite goodbye-and-thanks note, prompting one more charge of selfishness from Rikuo.

She came and went like a storm, but before she left she looked out into the sunset while smoking on the balcony (in a beautifully drawn and lit scene), with what seemed to be an internal debate in her head.

Should she stay, keep enjoying cooking and eating with the nice guy she once dated at the risk of blowing something up that was there before? Or should she leave, and later on look back fondly on those few days when she played house with an old flame? She chose to leave, but I wouldn’t mind if she wasn’t gone for good.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 05 – Miss Never Number One

Rikuo ends up at a new part-time job at a photography gallery, only to encounter co-worker Minato Kouichi, who was in the same third-year class as Haru before she dropped out. He joins them for lunch and exhibits how pretentious he is about photography. Rikuo takes an instant dislike to him.

That leads to yet another coincidence in which Minato is walking Haru home at the same time Rikuo is walking a slightly tipsy Shinako home. Both Haru and Rikuo are irritated by what they see. Shinako tells Rikuo that she’s done walking in circles, while Minato not to subtly hints that he had a crush in Haru in high school, only for her to be completely oblivious.

Minato visits Haru as often at the bar at least as often as Haru visits Rikuo, and eventually asks if she’ll spend a day with him. He formally asks her out, and while she replies with a rant about how much of an asshole Rikuo is, she’s not ready to give up on him, even if she’s “just the backup”, or she’d be lying to herself. Minato expected a rejection, and reveals he dropped out of college to pursue a life of freelance photojournalism.

When Haru says of her pet crow “I kept feeding him, and he got attached to me,” I couldn’t help but notice how similar that is to her approach with Rikuo, intentional or not. Rikuo so often comes off as irritated or annoyed with her (or is so often spotted with Shinako after dark), Haru’s adopted the misconception that he doesn’t care how she feels.

In reality, her reliable and persistent “feeding” of her charming personality to him has made him attached to her, to the extent he’s jealous when he sees her with Minato and even gets into an artistic competition with him. It’s fitting that while Rikuo loses, it’s because Minato’s photo was simply more compelling.

The photo depicts Haru in high school, which stands in contrast to Minato’s earlier screed against portraiture as the photographer forcing his feelings on the viewer. Sure enough, Minato’s affection for the subject suffuses the image, and even Rikuo can’t resist the portrait’s candid beauty and longing. It’s a Haru Rikuo had never seen before, and can never unsee.

One could also look at this photo as a portent for Haru’s eventual dropping out. She looks restless, and her gaze is pointed elsewhere—somewhere more painful yet more rewarding, scarier yet inevitable: adulthood and independence.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 01 – Meet Cutes and Coincidences (First Impressions)

“Oh Hai! I’m not weirded out by you taking my picture AT ALL!”

There are three basic kinds of anime rom-coms: those that do something totally unique and/or unexpected, those that hew close to the well-worn conventions of the genre, and those that stride the two extremes. From the moment Tada Mitsuyoshi catches his love interest Teresa Wagner in his viewfinder, it’s clear we’re dealing with the well-worn variety.

That means it’s up to things like the execution of the romance, the quality of the comedy, the likability of the characters, and the technical aspects that determine whether I’ll watch it. And if I do, I’m still looking for surprises somewhere to liven up an otherwise boilerplate affair. So let’s see what TKS has going for it, and what it doesn’t.

“We meet AGAIN? It’s almost like we’re supposed to be in the same anime!”

Regarding execution of romance, the title says it all: “Tada doesn’t fall in love.” That doesn’t mean he shouldn’tcan’t, or won’t, mind you; it just means he usually/typically/classically…doesn’t. But it’s almost immediately clear from the Imperial Palace Sakura Photo Meet Cute that Mitsuyoshi is struck by Teresa’s beauty, if nothing else. First impressions matter, and can make the difference between “doesn’t” and “could.”

Mitsuyoshi is most likely someone who has never fallen in love because a.) he’s young,  b.) hasn’t found the right person, and/or c.) he’s focused on photography and school. I’m glad he doesn’t fall head-over-heels for Teresa from the start—he knows next to nothing about her—but at the very least, the air-headed foreigner is an intriguing  new presence in his life.

Alec kicks the overcaffeinated sidekick (THANK you…)

As coincidences continue to pile up that bring the two together, Mitsuyoshi brings Teresa before his whole family, consisting of his cafe-running grandfather (who likes the same old samurai tv show as Teresa) and little sister/waitress Yui (obligatory Minasi Inori presence). The shrine in the Tada residence indicates the loss of one or both Tada parents, one of whom was a photog like Mitsuyoshi.

Before long, Mitsu’s best mate and self-professed “Adonis” Ijuuin Kaoru shows up and tries to put the moves on Teresa as soon as Mitsu tells him she’s not his gf, but he’s quickly thwarted, not just from the cafe cat Nyanko Big (who amusingly resembles a friend’s cat), but by Teresa’s traveling companion, Alexandra “Alec” Magritte, who assumes Kaoru is attacking Teresa and swiftly deploys her itchy trigger leg.

Alec and Kaoru look like a dead ringer for the “opposites attract” trope, but while I appreciate what Miyano Mamoru does with his voice at times, his performance as Kaoru feels a few notches too extreme for this milieu (which is probably intentional).

If you were surprised by this development, you don’t watch many anime rom-coms

Why, do you ask, do two Luxembourgish women in Teresa and Alec have perfect command of Japanese? I imagine it’s the same reason Teresa almost gives another surname other than “Wagner”, and why Alec is so well-versed in martial arts and is protective of Teresa: it’s likely she’s royalty, and Alec is her bodyguard/valet.

She’s come to Japan, likely her favorite foreign country, to soak it all in. That means transferring to Mitsu and Kaoru’s school, and even their class. Ye gods, the coincidences…

Of course, they don’t want to broadcast that fact, but it will be interesting if a.) I’m right about this and b.) it creates a conflict with Mitsu, because at this point, there are no conflicts beyond Mitsu’s general normalness and heretofore non-existent love drive. Maybe she has a betrothed? In any case, this was an establish and introduce episode, and for the most part I’m on board.

Net-juu no Susume – 09

The penultimate NjS‘ cold open has a hell of a hook: Morioka taking a shower in Sakurai’s apartment! It’s safe to assume the episode to follow would tell the story of how such a seismic development in their relationship (“level up” in MMO terms) occurred. It’s also safe to assume that there’s nothing untoward going on; the two were caught in the rain and his place was closer seems about right.

But first, we go back to the aftermath of Sakurai’s confession that he’s both Lily and Harth, knows Morioka is Hayashi, and has been her beloved confidant and partner under her nose. At first, the news seems to break Morioka—it’s a lot to process, and her “CPU” overloads. She comes out of it to ask him when he first knew; he suspected when they started talking more in-game, but their “first date” was the confirmation.

In her head, Morioka is happy Sakurai rushed to her, lamenting how she might not have done the same, as she’s be so worried about upsetting the apple cart. The two have taken their next step, but neither has any idea how to proceed, nor are they remotely on the same page.

To whit: when Morioka tells Sakurai she wants them to “keep being good online friends”, she says it believing that’s all Sakurai will ever want, while Sakurai considers it a rejection—that she only wants to be good online friends and nothing else. Both are misunderstanding a great many things.

Sakurai’s belief he’s struck out is a weight that replaces the weight he just got off his shoulders with his confession, and he makes matters worse by not going online, leaving Morioka feeling lonely and unfocused in the MMO, as well as free to incorrectly interpret his motives.

Koiwai can totally deduce why Sakurai gets so uncharacteristically drunk on night, can reasonably conclude he’s misinterpreting things, and texts Morioka, asking if they can meet and talk something over.

That something is Sakurai, but Morioka never meets Koiwai in the park. Koiwai summons Sakurai into the park so he and Morioka meet. And that’s all he really has to do (though I wish he’d delete that photo of Morioka sleeping…that’s not cool, man!).

I’ve been up and down with Koiwai, but I never should have had any doubt that he’s a true and loyal friend to Sakurai and that Morioka’s a much better match for his blonde-haired friend…if only they could get together and relax…which he makes happen.

They relax, that is, until they go to the convenience store together and Morioka, already worried she looks like shit, gets even more self-conscious when the shopkeeper asks Sakurai if she’s his girlfriend, to the point of running off as the clouds gather. She believes, of course, that the shopkeeper meant “there’s no way she’s your girlfriend, right?” She was teasing, not condemning!

Sakurai chases her down, and after hearing her lay into herself and apologize for being seen with him, Sakurai sets the record straight: he doesn’t think like that at all. Then those clouds open up, he uses his coat to keep her dry(ish) and suggests they go to his place, which is just nearby, dry off, and he’ll cook some lunch.

Sakurai didn’t think, he just suggested this…and Morioka doesn’t think, she just agrees and comes up with him. As soon as they start thinking, she realizes she’s taking a shower, and he’s leaving out some of his clothes for her to change into. In other words, pretty boyfriend-girlfriend kinda stuff! I’m all for it. Hang in there, you crazy kids. Just one episode left!

Net-juu no Susume – 08

Sakurai Yuuta was adopted by a wealthy, elderly couple. When they passed away they left their sprawling home to him, but he moved somewhere more reasonably-sized, both because he couldn’t maintain it himself, and because the empty house only intensified his loneliness.

In MMOs, specifically KanterSG, he found the sweet spot where he could be alone without being lonely; where he could meet and interact with people without leaving his digs; where he could regain that feeling of family and mutual support.

And in KanterSG, he met Yuki, whom he strongly suspects to be Molly/Hayashi/Morioka, despite the perceived ridiculousness of such a coincidence. To find out for sure, he decides to rely on whether she remembers him as he was, by adopting the same look as his KanterSG character, Harth.

At first, it seems to Sakurai that he might be mistaken, as Yuki doesn’t seem to react to the name “Harth.” However, she actually has, she just needs a little nudge to start the memories flying, and that’s hearing him pronounce it. After logging out, Morioka calls Sakurai to ask if he ever knew a character named Yuki, giving Sakurai the opening he needs to say it was him.

The ensuing phone conversation is one of the most adorable—and best—things this show has ever done; the elation of both Sakurai and Morioka at the news they’ve always known each other positively radiates through the screen like warm rays of light. Morioka’s torrent of expressions and gestures are wonderful to behold.

Unfortunately, Sakurai’s phone dies before he can volunteer one more crucial nugget of info: that he’s not just Harth, but Lily as well.

Morioka and Sakurai bump into each other in the street, and act in that combination of awkward and giddy that you expect of two people who suddenly find themselves much closer. Sakurai offers his coat and a snack to a hungry Morioka, whose stomach-growling reminded him of the time they both ordered Christmas chicken at the convenience store.

When Morioka starts to go on about Lily, how much she reminds her of him, and how they should play FdM together as a trio sometime, Sakurai must tell her the truth, and he does: he’s Lily. Morioka’s reaction seems to be of surprise if not shock, but unfortunately we leave things right there.

How will Morioka feel about Sakurai having kept the truth from her for so long? Will she be mad at him, or, more likely, blame herself for not having figured it out, even though she was aware of the similarities? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out, and glad the show and its couple got to move forward as much as they did here, with just two episodes remaining.

Net-juu no Susume – 07

NJS episode 7 is a bit of a let-down, and almost feels like a waste of time, were it not for the development at the very end. Otherwise, we’re in a familiar holding pattern, in which Sakurai tries in vain to give up on Morioka while still interacting with her in Fruits de Mer.

It’s a really untenable position, especially when “Hayashi” gets to talking with “Lily” about her two dates and has a lot more to say about the first one with him than the second one with Koiwai. When Hayashi notes that the first “woman” reminded her of Lily, it really starts to test Sakurai’s resolve.

That resolve is ultimately eroded even further when Koiwai starts playing Fruits de Mer and Morioka creates a new, female avatar, “Molly” who is visually the grown-up version of “Yuki”, whom Sakurai was good friends with in a past MMO.

Koiwai was more irritating than usual this week, for while I can’t fault the guy for wanting to get closer to Morimori, there’s something to be said for letting a NEET have her safe places to escape to, and his sudden imposing of himself into the world of FdM resembled a bull in a china shop (except when he stepped away to email Sakurai; then the bull stood perfectly still).

But if the show is trying to sell us the story of Sakurai and Morioka, there’s something distasteful about every scene with Morioka and Koiwai; it triggers an impatience, especially when combined with Morioka’s continued ignorance of Lily’s true identity and her believe a guy like Sakurai would never be interested in her.

Perhaps once Sakurai creates a new male avatar resembling his old one who Yuki confided in, maybe she’ll start to put the pieces together. But just as I can’t fault Koiwai for continuing to pursue Morioka, I can’t fault Morioka for not knowing the truth, because the easiest way for that to happen is with Sakurai simply telling her, which he has utterly failed to do for yet another week.

Net-juu no Susume – 06

So, here we are: Hayashi and Lily IRL. Was it a setup by Koiwai? Apparently not; due to her Elite NEET status, Morioka got the day wrong. Little does she know that Sakurai is really Lily, which is the true reason he knew to where and when to “rescue” her from the wrong day.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: Sakurai is, like, totally into Morioka, and their date goes as swimmingly and is as enjoyable as when they’re hanging out in the MMO…maybe moreso! It’s just as enjoyable to watch, despite the fact neither party treats this as an official, “real” date.

I’m a little disappointed things are more complicated than Koiwai staging a setup to get the two together. That seems to be what he’s doing anyway, considering he stops joking around and directly asks Sakurai if he’s really okay with him going out alone with Mori-Mori tomorrow. I’d personally be fine with Koiwai graciously backing out of the triangle rather than keeping the heat on.

I was also a bit miffed that Sakurai made no serious effort to tell Morioka the truth about their being MMO partners. What could have been a built-in in with Morioka instead needlessly muddies the waters. There’s never going to be a good time to tell her, but he needn’t keep holding off the truth until it’s a unequivocally bad time; or worse, to late to salvage any kind of relationship.

Sure, I’m getting ahead of myself, but c’mon; we’re not honestly supposed to be rooting for Koiwai and Morioka. Still, while Koiwai teases both Sakurai and Morioka incessantly, he also shows that he genuinely cares about both of them, and isn’t putting on any act for Morioka (who is almost constantly selling herself short).

Morioka thinks the last two days to be almost too good to be true, but I was glad when she corrected herself earlier and said “thank you” instead of her usual unnecessary apologies. I also liked how she mentioned she might not have left her job if she had co-workers as kindhearted as Sakurai and Koiwai. This suggests that a part of her didn’t really want to resign, but it felt like the best way out of a bad situation.

In any case, it’s wonderful to behold Moiroka’s jubilation upon returning home and, more importantly, re-entering the MMO as Hayashi after two straight nights of going out and drinking as Morioka. It isn’t long before Lily shows up. Sakurai looked like he was in agony the whole night Koiwai was out with Morioka, but he’s decidedly relieved-looking upon her return to the MMO and his (well, Lily’s) side.

Still, I worry he’s being far too passive. Allow Koiwai go out with Morioka too much unchallenged, and there’s a good chance Koiwai falls for her and says “Sorry Sakura-chan, you had your chance!” Heck, that may already be happening! The only one who can do anything about this sad state of affairs is the one enduring them. And he’s only got four episodes left to do it!

Net-juu no Susume – 05

Last week, Sakurai seemed to have all but figured out that Hayashi is Morioka, and comes so tantalizingly close to asking her about it…only to back away at the last second. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!

Ah well, I guess it is bad online manners to guess someone’s identity out of the blue, and who knows how she’d react if he guessed correctly. But while he harbors serious doubts that such a series of coincidences could occur, his suspicions about Hayashi being Morioka IRL still remain (Also, the show apparently wasn’t quite ready to open up that can of worms).

Also, what’s this? Koiwai casually telling Sakurai he can come along? Saying the whole reason he arranged this was for his sake? This is the friend I knew Koiwai was; trying to jump-start a relationship that is stuck in, well, MMO-land (little does he know).

Morioka, meanwhile, tries to relax about the whole prospect of drinks with a guy, realizing it’s no big deal…but when she starts listing in her head all of the things she needs to do regarding her makeup, hair, and attire, she quickly becomes overwhelmed.

She’s snapped out of this state by the friendly clerk Fujimoto, who formally introduces himself. When he learns she and Morioka are on the same server, he comes right out and tells her his name…Kanbe. A guy finally does learn who “Hayashi” is…just not the right guy.

That being said, neither Kanbe nor Lilac (who doesn’t know, but partakes in a rhetorical discussion on the matter) would judge any friend for switching their gender online. Heck, Lilac’s friend at university plays a guy. Morioka is sorry to Kanbe for lying, but Kanbe tells her it’s up to her whether to tell anyone else, including Lily.

When Hayashi mentions he’s going out for drinks tomorrow, Sakurai starts to think maybe he isn’t Morioka, since she and Koiwai aren’t going for drinks until the day after tomorrow. When Hayashi asks Lily what to wear, he gives the best answer he can, only to be pressed further by Kanbe, backing Morioka up.

Kanbe and Lily get into a pretty heated argument about what length of hair is best, and Morioka settles on a medium length. The haircut, along with a new outfit matching Lily’s advice, runs Morioka a pretty penny, and she can’t help but itemize it in terms of loot boxes. She also realizes how rusty she’s become at things like applying mascara.

However, she gets herself made up, dressed, and together, and heads to the agreed-upon meeting place…on the wrong day. Koiwai is away on business until tomorrow, and Sakurai is worried. He’s worried Morioka got the day wrong, wait there, get shown up, and take it the wrong way.

So in the middle of a quest with the other members of the guild, Lily suddenly logs out, and Sakurai heads to the site of the date. I dreaded the fact he might not recognize her after her makeover, but thankfully he does notice her walking away looking sad, and calls out.

Now, this encounter doesn’t immediately, definitively prove to Sakurai that Morioka is Hayashi, nor to Morioka that Sakurai is Lily. But it comes pretty damn close! The question is, did Morioka really get the day mixed up, or did Koiwai arrange it so that only the two of them would meet?

If that’s the case, good-intentioned or not, and even if Sakurai’s a better fit for her, Koiwai will owe Morioka an apology and explanation for his machinations. After all, she expected, and waited an hour, for him, not Sakurai.

Net-juu no Susume – 04

A new series of cute loot and a bonus point campaign spur Morika, already in high spirits upon becoming partners with Lily, to splurge a little. Only a happy circumstance takes place at the convenience store as she has to wait a few minutes for the store’s e-money system to boot.

Those minutes are spent suddenly learning that the store clerk is also a fan of Fruits de Mer, and goes on and on about it in a way Morioka find very fulfilling. They have so much fun talking, the clerk neglects the fact there’s a guy who needs his cigs!

Even so, it was exhilarating for Morioka to finally talk with someone about MMOs in real life. In the game, Hayashi encounters Kanbe and Lilac, the latter of which has just gone to the loot outlet and picked out some stuff that’s very fluffy and cute, but Kanbe prefers what she usually wears.

We also meet Lilac’s real-life player, who both laments not having snatched up Hayashi as her partner and seems to have a bit of a spark with Kanbe. Hayashi manages to score both rare and common loot, but lucky Lily takes the cake by scoring the whole set.

When in-game, NjS packs a lot of neat details, like the way Lilac sees Hayashi as a sensitive guy (compared to Kanbe) rather than what he actually is—a she; Pokotarou suddenly spawning in the same space as Lilac, obscuring her avatar; or Himeralda’s player playing as her husband, who plays Pokotarou; a surprising and clever occurrence.

But NjS makes good use of both of its worlds, and seems really balanced this week. Sakurai is depressed about not being able to see Morioka, and as he lists off all the ways he’s tried, Koiwai rightly suspects him of stalking, which isn’t good.

But then…Koiwai stakes out the convenience store, bumps into Morioka as planned, and works his businessman magic. Morioka is initially like, “why is this guy talking to me?!” and rightly so, even if she weren’t naturally shy; but once they get to talking they establish a quick rapport, though Koiwai comes off as a little pushy in gaining her contact info.

When Koiwai shows Sakurai what he’s done, how he managed to get a date with Morioka, Sakurai’s expression is of shock, which if the camera had lingered would have surely turns to dejection. Is Koiwai simply helping Sakurai out, or does he want to date Morioka? I hope it’s the former; besides seeming like a nice guy, what kind of friend would stab him in the back like that?

That brings us back into the game, where Hayashi goes to a, yup, dejected-looking Lily, who reminds them that since they’re partners, he can come to her to talk any time. Morioka, through Hayashi, words things very carefully in telling Lily the story of how she ended up in the hospital on an IV all the way to accepting a date from a former work colleague.

The coincidences are far too many, and Sakurai is no fool; he connects the dots, flipping Hayashi’s gender to make her Morioka. Now all he needs to do is believe the deduction he’s just made and proceed from there. After all, despite thinking he’s had no contact with Morioka, all this time he’s had all the contact, and they’re already partners, for gosh sakes. It’s high time the RL players need to catch up to their MMO counterparts.