Spy x Family – 21 – Not My Mama

WISE agent Fiona Frost, AKA Nightfall (voiced by Sakura Ayane in her lower meter) could just as easily be named Snowfall, seeing as she’s outwardly as chilly as Yor is warm. When Handler tells her she’ll be working on a joint mission with Twilight, Fiona jumps at the chance.

She considers it an opportunity to speed up and improve Operation Strix by getting rid of his fake wife, a position she would have occupied had she not been busy on another mission when Strix began. Fiona is met at the door by guileless Yor, who apparently doesn’t feel any killing intent in Loid’s co-worker from the hospital, even as Fiona’s resting face is a piecing dagger stare

When she realizes that Yor considers being Anya’s mom to be fun, she changes her tack, ready to exploit Yor’s feelings of being a subpar wife, but Loid and Anya return home from walking Bond. No matter how good Fiona’s poker face is, Anya can read her mind, and she’s petrified to learn the extent of Fiona’s infatuation with her Papa. It’s way worse than Becky!

The contrast between the lovey-dovey Inner and frigid Outer Fionas makes for good laughs, as does the secret conversation-via-mouth-movements that she and Loid make while sounding like they’re exchanging mindless small talk. As Loid, Yor, and Anya interact, Fiona is constantly demanding that she and Yor switch in her head, and Anya can hear her.

Turns out Yor was paying attention to Fiona talking about Loid complaining at work, and even though Fiona didn’t get to actually specify anything, the mere mention of him complaining has Yor acrobatically leaping to the conclusion that Fiona is a potential replacement wife, no mind-reading necessary.

It’s when Anya semi-accidentally spills cocoa, and she hears Inner Fiona talking about how ruthlessly she’d whip Anya into an efficiently Stella-winning machine, that Anya runs tearfully to Yor’s side, asserting that she is the one, only, and best Mama she could have. This in turn spurs Yor to promising to Loid that she’ll do better, even though from his perspective she’s already been doing fine.

When she sees Loid’s fake smile, Fiona is heartened, as it means that at the end of the day this is all an act. And yet, at the same time, she can see some of the truth leaking through that fake smile, and the genuine peace and happiness Loid is experiencing with Yor and Anya is just too much, and Fiona takes her leave.

Loid chases her down with an umbrella, which she declines, while thanking the heavy rain for hiding her face full of heartbreak and anguish. Inside, she maintains that she’s the only wife worthy of her beloved senpai, while outside she negs Loid, telling him the new “softer” Twilight better not impede their joint mission.

Fiona is a stylish and welcome addition to the cast; someone who is actively trying to steal Loid while having no idea how to do so, someone with contrasting inner-outer personalities off which Anya can bounce, and a hint of genuine pathos for someone whose fated role by Loid’s side was usurped due to bad timing.

The final fifth of the episode is a little vignette in which Bond is suddenly jealous of her stuffed Mr. Penguin, and assaults it in the night. Loid eventually mends the doll (after Yor utterly failed) and notes that his “scars” are badges of honor for a veteran penguin spy.

A contrite bond offers peace peanuts to Anya, who forgives him, apologizes for saying she hated him, and enacts a peace treaty between him and Mr. Penguin. It’s slight and sweet—almost to the point of cloying—but does make for a nice parallel for the East-West conflict (would that it could be solved so easily) and reminds us that even precognitive flooffers can get jealous.

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 09 – Bittersweet Symphony

This episode, which finally fully chronicles the height and eventual fall of Mizuto and Yume, begins simply, with the two sharing a tender kiss without fanfare during the golden hour on a quiet street. The look they share after said kiss may just be the only time in the entire episode that they are truly on the same wavelength with one another.

When Yume is invited to Mizuto’s house, room, and bed (to sit on) when his parents aren’t home, she gets understandably excited, only for the two to spend hours reading a book together. It’s pleasant, but it’s less than Mizuto hoped for; she was ready to take the next step. So was Mizuto. But it just…didn’t happen. And it never would.

The first sign of the couple drifting apart is when they find themselves in separate classes for the third year of middle school. They still meet in their treasured library after school, and make a pinky promise to make wonderful memories for Christmas and Valentine’s. But then Yume gradually opens up and makes friends in her class.

Mizuto is irked by her newfound popularity, and when they are together, all she talks about is her friends this or her friends that. Feeling like they’re drifting away from each other hurts, so he hurts her back by snapping at her. He fully prepares to apologize the next day, but when Yume first sees him in the library, he’s chatting with another girl…in her chair.

His apology goes right through her, as she feels he betrayed her in the special place where they met and shared so many memories. And that bitter memory of seeing him with that other girl haunts him. It’s just a fight couples always have, but they let it fester and see less and less of each other.

When they finally encounter one another, it’s by chance at a bookstore, and Mizuto suggests, and Yume agrees, that they should make up and put the rancor behind them. But it’s just words. Mizuto is still hung up on being accused of cheating, while Yume is vexed by how far ahead he’s walking.

Once inseparable, the two fall completely out of sync, and their relationship falls off the rails. Yume thinks of inviting Mizuto to the festival where he found her, but fails to send the invite text and goes alone, hoping things will just work out like they did a year ago, even though she knows they won’t. Then their one-year anniversary comes and goes with nary a text from him.

The Christmas and Valentine’s memories they promised to share become exercises in bitter solitude, as both Mizuto and Yume remain incommunicado for those holidays. Finally, when graduation comes along, Mizuto quietly suggests, and Yume agrees, that they should break up.

At that point it felt less like and end and more like a “liberation.” He couldn’t deny his affection for Yume, but couldn’t deny the building resentment either. Little things turned into big things and finally the only thing: pain and anguish. The rest, we know: their parents get married a few months later, and they are introduced to each other as stepsiblings.

Fast-forward back to the present, where Yume is helping herself to one of Mizuto’s many many books, and happens to land on the same one they read together the first time she entered that room. The two reveal to one another in reminiscing that they both had the same intentions that day: to take their relationship to the next step.

You could say that day was really the beginning of the end, since it led to “aged plagued with regret” for Mizuto and “wasted time feeling she was undesirable” for Yume. And yet, thanks to their parents, a new beginning was written; one that allows them to reflect on their past missteps while seeing each other in a new light.

It was powerful and affecting watching their bittersweet first relationship crash and burn so utterly. From the cozy warmth of their (presumably) first kiss to the stark chill of their breakup scene, it was a harrowing roller coaster of a tale that added fresh context, richness, and gravitas to their present-day dynamic.

Love After World Domination – 09 – Become Strong, Then Fall in Love

One minute you’re alone with your girlfriend in her dorm, the next, you’re staring down her eccentric, fanatical father and taciturn yet hostile little sister. The latter, Magahara Urami, is basically the protagonist of this episode, and she’s in crisis.

This…man, who is dressed as a common Gekko foot solider, seems to have turned her invincible sister into a weak, girly softie. The main flaw with Urami’s position is that she couldn’t be more wrong, but she has to learn that the hard way.

When Fudou, who makes up the fake name Mudou, assures Desumi’s dad that she only turned down the monster promotion after careful consideration, then insists he allow Desumi to attend college, both Urami and Pops are furious that an “outsider” is interfering in family matters.

Pops even starts a fight with Fudou, and demonstrates his carefully-honed “Art of Defeat”; i.e. the most stylish way of taking a hit. Pops leaves impressed with Fudou’s devotion to a cause and will table the university discussion, and Desumi sees him off with a smile.

Urami spends the night, presumably hiding in the closet from a big sister she no longer recognizes, thanks to “Mudou” “ruining” her. Growing up, Urami’s problems with communicating and resting emo face made her an easy target for bullies, all of whom were obliterated by Desumi. It’s no surprise Urami developed a sister complex.

When the sisters visit Gekko’s HQ and Desumi receives a royal greeting befitting her rank, Urami briefly believes that the badass sister she knows is still in there…only for Desumi to scold the foot soldiers for going out of their way, and get upset they don’t notice her new (adorable) hairdo. Urami is in awe of HQ and particularly Desumi’s co-workers and superiors, but Desumi would rather go shopping with her in Harajuku.

Urami is beside herself with frustration…how could the sister she loved and idolize become thus? She storms off in a huff and sulks in a dark alley, where she’s cornered by three lunkheads who aren’t at all concerned with age limits. She’s about to clobber them, but when they call her an “emo kid” like the bullies of her past and present, she freezes up.

That’s when Desumi appears, two delectable crepes in hand, and ignores the dopes entirely. When they warn her that they’re “bad guys”, Desumi puts on her game face and ethers all three of them so easily the show doesn’t bother showing the carnage, only the aftermath. Urami may think Desumi has “gone soft”, but the fact of the matter is she’s as strong as she’s ever been.

She realizes she once told Urami that one must become strong to survive, but now that she’s older she knows that’s not enough. If you want to survive and thrive, you have to fall in love. Urami returns home wearing the hairband her sister bought her. She hated the new version of her big sister at first, but having seen that she dole out carnage and be cute at the same time, maybe this new Desumi isn’t so bad after all.

“Mudou”, on the other hand, will be the first to be purged when she rises up in Gekko.

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 07 – …But Sometimes She Can

Komi is haunted by the possibility Najimi saw her holding Tadano’s hand as he slept. She spends all night trying to word a letter of explanation, but because she’s not 100% sure Najimi did see it, she doesn’t want to write anything to make Najimi suspicious. Meanwhile, Tadano wants to thank Komi for coming by, but isn’t 100% sure whether she was actually there or if she was just part of his fever dreams.

In their efforts to not say something that will give the other party the wrong idea, the misunderstandings only mount. Ironically, this is a sign that Komi is indeed becoming better at communicating. She is not just thinking internally and freezing up like the past, but trying to figure out what someone else is thinking or intended. That said, Komi was most certainly not just “checking his pulse!”

The last few episodes have shown an incremental uptick in the Komi x Tadano romance angle, but there are always new weirdo friends to meet, and this week’s is Naruse, whom I honestly can’t remember even in the background of previous episodes, but maybe that’s the point. As invisible as he’s been to me (and the rest of the gang), he is absolutely in love with himself.

Nine months into the school year, Naruse finally decides now is the time to approach Komi. One interesting bit of possibly accidental perceptiveness on his part? He assumes Komi has never spoken to him due to a communication disorder, for which he doesn’t judge her. But he clearly has a blind spot when it comes to the protective wall of secondary friends surrounding Komi, Tadano, and Najimi; he assumes they’re all his fans even if that’s a very big delusional reach.

When Komi returns his hanky that he saw him drop, he assumes it’s a sign she’s in love with him. Because of this, he’s a bit too forward in asking for her contact info, and gets Tadano’s instead. Naruse also has a constant deadpan translator/commentator in Chuushaku Kometani, who I wished would have gotten in a narration fight with the usual female narrator; to no avail.

The third and final segment returns us to the central romance as groups are to be formed for the upcoming class trip to Kyoto. When Tadano asks where she went for middle school, she says Kyoto, but after that she starts acting squirrelly even for her. Tadano correctly assumes she’s not feeling okay. After what may be the first instance I can recall of Najimi getting the eff out of the way, Tadano asks her about it, and she initially says it’s nothing, she’s fine, and they part ways.

But then, when they’re still only about ten feet away, she calls him, and tells him what’s been eating her: she lied about going to Kyoto. Her class went to Kyoto, but she was the last person chosen for a group, which picked her by playing jankenpon. She’ll never know whether the other members of her group welcomed her with a smile, were offended by her presence, or didn’t care one way or another…because she couldn’t raise her head.

It’s Komi’s most extensive and most heartbreaking sharing of her bad old days before she met Tadano (and Najimi), and Koga Aoi does the lord’s work infusing Komi’s tiny voice with meloncholy and longing. It’s also probably the most she’s spoken continuously yet; another sign that things aren’t the same as they were then, and never will be.

Tadano tells her she has friends now. Even if some of the others would “rather be with someone else” (highly arguable), Tadano would rather be with her than anyone else. He adds Najimi in there in case he sounds too forward, but I think Komi gets the idea as she hangs up and finishes their talk in person.

After talking with Tadano, Komi feels a lot better and is actually looking forward to the trip. The next day, in a complete inversion of her traumatic middle school experience, every single girl in the class wants to be in the same group as Komi, so the teacher has to employ a lottery system. To them, being able to spend time with her isn’t a burden; it’s a prize.

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 06 – Tadano’s Dizzy Fever Day

While Komi spent New Year’s Eve with her extended family, Tadano spends it at home playing video games until midnight with Najimi. The next morning Najimi is still there, and suggests they call as many friends as they can to go on their first shrine visit. But between Komi not picking up, Ren in Hawaii, Agari almost choking on mochi, Inaka not in cell range, Nakanaka playing a crucial mobile game, Yadano playing battledore, and Katai doing pushups, it seems like it might be a bust.

However, they still manage to organize a huge group, including Komi, who calls Najimi back after the initial missed call. Najimi leads the charge up the steps to the shrine, leaving her and Tadano in the dust. As we know, this is Komi’s second shrine visit of the day, but it doesn’t matter, because she’s happy to be invited and to spend time with her friends…and Tadano. She also flashes a cheeky streak by withholding her fortune from him (which is excellent).

In the middle segment Katai continues his elaborate plan to make Tadano his best friend (or possibly boyfriend?) by inviting him ice skating. Tadano asks if he can invite someone else, and to my delight Najimi wasn’t his first call and isn’t around to suck up all the oxygen. Instead, Katai sees Komi’s presence as a sign she’s worried about her “student”; in reality, Komi is still weary of Kati, but also isn’t opposed to trying to bond as friends some more.

Turns out Tadano is the only one of the trio who know how to ice skate, which means he gets to teach them both, starting with Komi. Before you know it the two are skating together hand in hand, but because Komi over-corrects on her braking step, she spins around to face Tadano, and they both realize how this must look. Katai also eventually lets go of the fence and, with Tadano taking his hand and eventually letting go, the big guy is able to get the hang of it as well.

Possibly due to being out in the cold, Tadano comes down with a fever. He stays home alone, promising his little sis he won’t die, but in an extended scene, this cold gets worse and worse and he starts to get delirious and worry about actually dying. It doesn’t help that his bottle of sports drink is empty and he doesn’t have the strength to get out of bed. What he does have is a charged phone, which he uses to call Najimi…or at least he thought he called them, but ends up calling Komi instead.

The doorbell rings, and who should be at the door but Nurse Komi to the rescue. She bears hot ginger tea and ingredients for rice porridge, which she expertly and lovingly prepares in the Tadano kitchen. While I’m sure she’s upset that Tadano isn’t feeling so swell, you can tell she’s absolutely reveling in the opportunity to take care of the boy she cares for, especially after all that he’s done for her. That said, her enthusiasm for the job of nursing him to health results in her trying to feed him, perhaps out of habit from doing the same for, say, her brother.

When Komi comes back from washing the dishes, Tadano is out like a light, and she can’t help but draw near to him, watch his sleeping face, tuck him in so he doesn’t get a chill, and in perhaps one of the most touching moments of the entire series, slides her hand into his. Unfortunately Najimi mucks up the moment by bursting in unannounced, but it was still a beautiful moment. Her increasing number of colorful friends are fun, but her quiet little interactions with Tadano—ones she’d never have with anyone else—will always be my favorite part of this series.

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 05 – Hanafuda Komi-Komi

Our cold open is also a silent one, as the first 3+ minutes of the episode progress with neary a line of dialogue, only the cozy soundtrack and a number of the series’ trademark signs. Najimi has gotten both Tadano and Komi up at the break of dawn because it snowed overnight. After admiring the pristine unblemished whiteness, the thre build a gigantic snowman, while Komi makes a tiny one to match with Tadano’s.

After that, Ren, Yadano, and Agari join Tadano and Najimi on one team in a grand snowball fight. The elementary school team is short one person, so Komi joins them. There’s a great sight gag of her four teammates looking as tall as her, but she’s actually standing far behind them. A furious and dramatic battle ensues, eventually leaving Komi the only one on her team left standing. Ren, who has her best (and least problematic) appearance thus far this season, takes Yadano and Najimi out, leaving Komi to take her out and claim victory…as it should be.

When Komi visits her extended family over the New Year’s holiday, she reunites with her initially timid Akira, who slowly warms up to her older cousin and invites her to join her in a game of Hanafuda Koi-Koi. Komi sits out the first game where her granny eviscerates Akira, but Komi ends up getting one of the best combos in the game to erase her cousin’s debt.

No doubt impressed and proud of her granddaughter’s performance, Komi’s Gran lends her an absolutely stunning kimono for their first shrine visit of the year. Gran notes how “convenient” Komi is to have around as she literally parts the waves of people, and after making her offering and New Year’s wish, the amassed crowds feel like a goddess is in their midst.

The last segment throws Komi into the frying pan, as she’s put to work as a substitute shrine maiden making transactions for visitors. While initially overwhelmed, her colleague Inaka helps calm her down and reminds her that instead of talking she need only write everything down. Komi does a bang-up job, and then reveals she knew Inaka was Inaka all along in a sweet note hoping they’ll have a fun new year together. Needless to say, Komi doesn’t mind in the least that Inaka is a country girl!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 04 – The Kings of Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve, and Komi has been informed by Najimi that she’s going to host a party (nearly) everyone is attending. Komi races to the mall with her similarly barely verbal little brother Shousuke (though we learn after the credits he simply chooses to rarely speak). Komi in Big Sis Mode is a welcome and rare treat, and even though Shousuke acts like this is all a big hassle, even he isn’t immune to her austere expressions of pure joy.

When the gang arrives—along with several tertiary classmates whose names I’ve yet to remember—they greet Komi with a Merry Christmas and a Happy Birthday…though her birthday is actually the 26th. Oddly, both Tadano and Ren made the same mistake despite acquiring their information from vastly different means.

The enormous group means there’s potential for a lot of back and forth, and back and forth there is, but it all feels a bit…scattered? Leaving aside the fact I’m not 100% sure Komi actually ever agreed to host the party and was given less than 24 hours to prepare which seems rude considering how many people came. That said, the group does pick out the perfect gift for Komi: a giant plush black kitty she later uses as a body pillow.

Another point against this episode is that for a show with such a large cast there is simply too much screen time for Ren, whom it’s already been established is an unrepentant pervert who should be in juvenile detention. I know this show embraces a stylized form of reality where every character’s personality tics are amplified, but her schtick in particular feels outdated and icky.

If it sounds like I hated this episode…that’s not quite it. It’s just that it bothered me that Tadano totally chickened out on spending time with just Komi over winter break because he assumed, without evidence, she was…sigh…”just being nice.” Dude: first of all, she’s always nice; second, she definitely wants to hang out with you one-on-one! I’m sure having all her friends under her roof for Chrismas was super fun for Komi, but I can’t help but feel a part of her also felt…disappointed.

Also, not to bury the lede here…but where the f*** is one of Komi’s newest friends, Katai Makoto? Whether he couldn’t come or no one invited him, his absence, combined with the fact this is a Christmas episode in May, makes it feel like the episodes are airing out of chronological order, with this one taking place before Katai joined the cast. In any case, the episode ends on a sweet note with Komi making sure everyone understands her feelings. If only Tadano would grow a pair and try to do the same!

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 03 – Tadano’s Translation Tutelage

Can Tadano actually read minds? He certainly seems to be able to read Nakanaka’s pretty well (laid out as they are manga-style), but one can chalk that up to the fact he was once a chuunibyou like her. Nakanaka and Ren, the Yin and Yang of Komi’s girl friends, are united in their desire to interpret her better.

Tadano observes Komi with them and they produce their own whiteboards to write what they think she’s thinking. More often then not, it’s wishful thinking or their own personal opinions. But when Komi notices she’s been watching them, they assume she’s mad, but she actually wants to join them in whatever fun they’re having.

The next segment is a reprise of the three boys’ “which girl would you date” exchange, and this week we get scenarios with the very cozy and big sister-y Onemine, and the very comforting mom-like Kaede. As for Komi, they’re such at a loss of how to envision her, they have to resort to a boilerplate historical drama, in which Komi wields a blade for her beloved—and Koga Aoi speaks in a normal tone for I believe the first time in the series.

After that, it’s lunchtime, and Katai Makoto wants to make Komi, his Master of Communication, proud of him for his initiative. While his execution is a bit shaky, Tadano is still observant (and emotionally intelligent) enough to understand the big guy wants lunch.

Komi hides behind a column, and while Makoto thinks it’s so she can watch her pupil’s progress, she’s just worried for Tadano’s safety. But Tadano soon formally introduces the two and show them that there’s nothing to fear, even if they still don’t have quite the right idea about one another.

The final segment finally returns to the core relationship of Komi and Tadano, as the former runs out to buy some roasted potatoes (after accidentally playing red light-green light with him for a bit) and the latter goes out for a nighttime bike ride to clear his head. He’s thinking a lot about Komi, and how he should and actually does feel about her. How serendipitous, then, that they should cross paths.

Tadano chickens out and bids her good night, but she tugs at his coat and offers him a potato for the road. The warmth of the gesture (and the potato) and the fact that Komi is just so gosh-darned cute and fun to be around, gives Tadano the courage he needs to come out and say, if not how he feels, what he wants to do, which is to hang out with Komi during their Winter Break. Komi, clearly overjoyed, agrees. None of the lads’ dating fantasies can touch the surpassing sweetness and good vibes of real-life Komi and Tadano.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 02 – Komi Cuddles a Kitty

The second episode of Komi’s second season is a big of a mixed bag, but it’s strongest at its extremities. The first segment is short but sweet, as we watch Komi’s detailed morning prep before opening the front door to find there is a typhoon. The power goes out and there’s scary lightning, but a call from Tadano calms her down, and her mom dare not interrupt.

The segment in which Komi speaks the most by far is followed by a rather meh Ren segment in which she desperately wants to see Komi’s underwear through her black stockings. When the reflections don’t work out, she literally jumps into a puddle to snap some pics, only to be thwarted by spatters of mud on her lens. Thankfully, Ren is “purified” not only by a sudden rainbow, but Komi’s innocent reaction to it.

The third segment involves three of the more rarely seen boys exchanging hypothetical visions of dates with the various girls in the class. If nothing else, this segment has variety, placing Najimi, Agari, Ren, Nakanaka, Agari, Inaka, and Yadano a chance to shine in idyllic date scenarios. But the best one comes from Tadano, who envisions nothing more elaborate than washing dishes beside Komi.

It’s a warm and fuzzy way to segue to the warmest and fuzziest segment—when the kitty-crazed Komi goes to a new cat café. Najimi can’t go due to their cat allergy, while Tadano bows out as well simply because he wants Komi to be more comfortable inviting others like Onemine and Kaede. None of the cats like Komi’s aura until the chonky, normally aloof “Boss Cat” Chocolat approaches her and curls up in her lap, thus filling Komi’s heart.

Chocolat counds as Komi’s 15th friend, so there are now “just” 85 to go (methinks she’ll have to befriend an entire sports team at some point).  The final segment involves a game spearheaded by Ren simply so she can get Komi to tell her “I love you.” It’s a game where the person being told those words loses if they blush or otherwise strongly react.

When it comes time for Tadano to say them to Komi, he can’t get half a word out before being DSQ’d for blushing. Komi is able to keep her composure, but excuses herself to the hallway to release some steam. Just as Tadano wishes he’d gone to the cat café with Komi, she wishes she could hear those three words for him—if only in the context of a game!

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 01 – Eighty Seven

Komi Can’t Communicate picks up where it left off: with Komi in her room, this time greeting the morning after bonking her head groggily reaching for her phone. On her window sill are three treasured photos that demonstrate how much progress she’s made making friends.

After a brief but lovely prelude of Komi making her way to school, Najimi surprises her at the shoe lockers by touching her face with her cold hand (it’s winter). Komi then does the same thing to Tadano.

After Najimi breaks the fourth wall for a bit, she has Komi ask all of her friends to write their names down in a small notepad. Out of the 100 friends she wants to make, she currently has…thirteen. That means she needs to make 87 more in just one semester!

I wonder whether this will ultimately be a matter of the final number not mattering because, well, thirteen is a lot of friends, especially when some of them haven’t gotten a segment in the anime yet!

But this season will certainly introduce more oddballs, starting with Katai Makoto, the mild mannered fellow who missed the start of school with an illness, got anxiety about going back, and bulked up and dyed his hair so now everyone assumes he’s a violent delinquent. It doesn’t help that his attempt at a friendly smile comes off as an evil smirk.

Katai’s inner monologue is completely at odds with how the rest of the class sees him, and they form a human wall arounf Komi to protect her from his delinquentness. Even so, he manages to sit down beside Komi, and the two of them, too scared to be the first to talk, simply stare each other down.

Enter Tadano, who is nice to Katai (of course) and give him a tour to refamiliarize himself with the school. But Katai thanks Komi for her silent advice, even calling her a “master of communication”.

The next segment involves a study session for upcoming exams, spearheaded by Najimi, who insists take place at Nakanaka’s, ostensibly so they can play video games. While Najimi jumps into bed and sleeps, Nakanaka and Ren get into it, aiming to determine who likes Komi more. A kind of heated RPG battle between them unfolds, with Tadano wisely staying out of it as the increasingly elaborate insults fly.

When the two girls finally turn to Komi and ask her straight-up who she values more as a friend, she writes a response that leaves no room for doubt: Both of you are important friends to me. Briefly chastened by her heartfelt sentiment, Ren and Nakanaka still decide to determine who is the better friend…through video games. Najimi, fresh off their nap, beats them both and makes sure to gloat about it plenty.

The final segment is the simplest and quietest, but also the sweetest, as the exams are underway. Komi, who only took out two pencils, drops one on the floor and breaks the tip of the other. She’s too scared to ask the teacher to pick them up (students can’t leave their desks), but Tadano picks up on her little dilemma and drops his own pencil so he can call the teacher over.

When Tadano realizes he has no eraser, Komi returns the favor by breaking hers in two and dropping half on the ground so Tadano can ask the teacher to retrieve it for him. The two are so tickled pink by their concern for one another, it makes concentrating on the exams hard, while Tadano will go on to treasure that half of Komi’s eraser like a precious gem.

If you’re like me and were itching for more Komi, you weren’t disappointed: the second season opens with more of the same characters in slightly different scenarios, combined with a new quirky character for Komi to befriend on the long and probably over-ambitious path to 100.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 02 – XYZ

Raidou and Aharen’s rapport continues to be strong and easygoing, but while Aharen has distance and communication issues, Raidou has an overactive imagination. For instance, he imagines Aharen was in a street fight with some toughs, when she really just got something in her eye. I liked how difficult it was for Raidou to administer the drops, and how when he gets something in his eye, Aharen is quick to reciprocate—though like me, she sucks at administering eye drops!

Raidou’s imagination also runs wild concerning the constant feeling he and Aharen are being watched and followed. He looks back on all of the petty offenses he’s committed against people in his life (mostly against his little sister) and believes himself a “monster”, and thus deserving of a hitman after him. Dude is an absolute goof.

However, he’s downright normal compared to the one following them, Aharen’s towering childhood friend Ooshiro Mitsuki. She is protective of Aharen, whom she calls Reina, but also terrified of Raidou and so keeps her distance. Even when Aharen insists he’s neither scary nor a bad guy, Mitsuki can’t help but stick to her misconceptions. Also MAO voices Mitsuki in “Pecorine on caffeine” mode.

The next segment involves Aharen wearing a mask due to a mild cold, and thus not being able to properly notify Raidou that his fly is all the fuck open, revealing his pink strawberry print boxers. Let it be said that Aharen’s reaction to this is as amazing as her attempts to warn Raidou are ineffective. That said, she does come up with a lot of clever ways to block the sight of his crotch from others.

Even on the way home, after an exhausting day of failure, Aharen  positions herself in front of him to spare him embarrassment. When he finally determines that she’s been trying to get him to notice something, and sees the reflection of the two of them in the mirror, it seems like he finally gets it…only for him to wrongly assume Aharen got a haircut.

Next up is the first segment with just Aharen and Mitsuki. Even though Raidou is absent, Mitsuki is weary of getting too close to Aharen, since she’s worried she’ll be yelled at, scolded, or bopped on the head (again). That said, it’s raining, and Mitsuki keeps trying to clandestinely lend Aharen her umbrella, only for Aharen to believe the umbrella is cursed and locks it up in front of a hastily-built shrine. Ultimately Aharen shares her umbrella with Mitsuki, and uses the fact she’s within talking distance to thank her for watching over her.

The post-credits sequence is short but sweet, as Raidou breaks out the Reversi (AKA Othello) board and challenges Aharen to a match. He thinks he’s got a worthy opponent (he touts himself a “Raidou Family Champion”) when Aharen exerts the aura of a lion, but he ends up trouncing her. Then he gets her to admit she let him win, insists she fight him with everything he’s got, and then she trounces him…twice.

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 01 (First Impressions) – Lean on Me

In the best tradition of any number of [Character Name] is [Character Trait] comes Aharen-san is Indecipherable, with a bone-simple premise and extremely solid execution throughout. Our protagonists Raidou and Aharen are trying to start fresh in their first year in high school, and end up complementing each other perfectly by remaining who they are.

In Raidou’s case, he’s one of those “scary resting face” guys who is hard to approach, and who thinks he’s smiling when he’s not. Aharen, he learns, has trouble gauging the proper distance and intensity of social interaction. She’s either too distant (literally and/or figuratively) or waaay too close than is socially acceptable. She also speaks with an extremely tiny voice (expertly provided by Minase Inori).

After a couple of two-ships-passing-in-the-night incidents, the two eventually connect; Aharen is her usual too-close self, but Raidou doesn’t mind because he wanted to make friends and has done so. And while he notes in his inner monologue when Aharen is way too close or clingy, he’s never embarrassed or over-the-top. Everything is handled super chill fashion.

Aharen and Raidou are so immediately likeable and adorable, it’s not hard to get swept up in their everyday school lives and not particularly care about anyone else in the class, as the episode doesn’t either. They’re both kind, decent, generous people, whether it’s plushies won in a crane game or Aharen sharing half of her enormous bento…or getting up extra-early to make him a lunch all his own when his mom is on a business trip.

There’s plenty of physical comedy to be wrung out of the pair, whether its their extreme size difference or the myriad ways Aharen fits onto his lap, tucked into his shoulder, or clinging to his leg. This gets taken to an extreme when she nods off in his lap and ends up head-over-heels. This is at the very end, which marks the first time the episode focuses on a third character—in this case, a jealous redheaded girl.

My Winter 2022 trio of Takagi-san 3, Dress-Up Darling, and Akebi’s Salior Uniform was outstanding, and are a hard act to follow. But Aharen-san is just the sweet and charming slice-of-life comedy I was ready to miss when those three shows ended. Looks like the cozy good times are going to keep rolling into the Spring.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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