3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 21 – What About Us?

I’ve never been particularly interested in 3DK’s longstanding ticking clock on Hikari and Iroha’s relationship. It’s a two-dimensional source of drama and dread on a show that’s proven itself capable of developing nuanced solutions to conflicts that rise organically from its cast of 3D characters.

Case in point: 3DK invested so much time and loving care to bringing Ishino and Takanashi together, yet the biggest threat to Hikari and Iroha’s relationship remains frustratingly murky.

There’s nothing unclear about the statuses of their friends, however: Ishino x Takanashi is very public, while Itou confirms to Hikari that he and Ayado made love. It’s quite on point for Itou to cry tears of joy afterwards, as well as to tell Hikari that it probably has changed his world, but a lot more changes are to come as he and Ayado share more experiences.

I kinda wish we’d gotten more of Ayado’s perspective—perhaps telling Ishino or Iroha about it—but still, kudos to the show for being both unambiguous and tasteful in the portrayal of a very common milestone in young people’s lives.

As their final year in high school begins to draw to a close, Takanashi, Ishino and Itou are all thinking about their futures…while Hikari hasn’t. Why would he? The future, to him, is just a place where there’s no Iroha.

Better to make the most of the present lest he come away with regrets. For Hikari, this means blowing off career surveys, studying and even some classes to spend maximum time with Iroha.

A side-effect of all the dating is a precipitous drop in his grades, something he keeps from both Itou and Iroha until the former hears it from the teacher. Like any best friend as kind as he is, Itou is concerned about Hikari, and urges him to be mindful of finding a school/romance balance.

However, Hikari doesn’t want to tell Itou why he’s neglecting his studies. He doesn’t want to tell Itou that Iroha is moving in a month, because that will only make that move—that future without her—more real.

Instead of getting back to his studies, Hikari takes Iroha out on more and more dates, even as she gets increased pressure from Mabuchi (the doctor) to stop what she’s doing presumably due to an undisclosed medical condition…but we just don’t absolutely know for sure!

One thing’s for sure: frolicking on a frigid beach in October isn’t going to help that condition…and I’d be very surprised if one or both of them didn’t come down with a cold next week.

But fine: Hikari doesn’t know the truth, and neither do we. Iroha doesn’t know about his bad grades until Itou tells her, and when she pulls out what she thinks are his notebooks for studying, they’re filled with things he’s planned for them to do together.

Seeing this note makes Iroha cry, because Hikari is planning a future for them that may not be possible. When he comes back with warm drinks, she tells him she lied: she’s not going to transfer schools. But that still doesn’t explain if and why they’ll separated in a month’s time.

Then again, perhaps Hikari’s request to his mom to loan him a large sum of money from his mom, and both his and Iroha’s reluctance to “go home” means they’re going to run away together, finally taking charge of their future.

But if Iroha’s real circumstances are so serious she’s yet to breathe a word of them to the man she loves, out of a reluctance to hurt him, what if those circumstances worsen, and there’s no longer any way to hide them…or avoid hurting Hikari anyway?

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 20 – Opening The Door To A Frightening World

“Never mind, I don’t care,” Takanashi lied. That’s where he finds himself at the beginning of this week: in denial of his feelings for Ishino and the feeling that he’s letting her slip away in his friend Sakurada’s arms. This week Sakurada is revealed as less of a character (or viable love interest to Ishino) and more of a catalyst for Takanashi to stop playing games.

When his mom ends up in hospital with a mild concussion, Takanashi hits the supermarket so he make hijiki for Anzu, and on his way out, he runs into Ishino, who can just tell something’s up. Takanashi resists the urge to tell her to butt out of his business (in fact she’s the one to bring up her meddling), but does tell her he doesn’t need her pity.

That grinds Ishino’s gears, as it should: forget never giving her the time of day: Takanashi has a serious habit of acting cool to hide his emotional struggles. He relents and asks Ishino to join him at his house, since she knows how to make hijiki.

Ishino also has a problem: it’s virtually impossible for her say “no” to Takanashi, no matter how selfish or mocking his request. But this isn’t about him playing games; it’s about him actually making some kind of effort, in his way, to let her know that her help at the house would be tolerated, appreciated…even preferred.

Meanwhile, someone who would prefer it if Hikari were to fall into a ditch and die is Iroha’s brother Chika, who has heard about the two of them going on an overnight trip. Hikari insists nothing will happen (which isn’t exactly fair to Iroha, if she wants something to happen!) and that the trip had to be postponed anyway; Chika gets his lick and death threat in anyway.

That feels like the first real ripple in Hikari and Iroha’s relationship in ages, and even then it’s due to a third party, not any conflict between the two of them. Back at Takanashi’s it’s pure domestic bliss—complete with spousal bickering, something Anzu probably isn’t used to considering they have a single parent.

Their argument is over whether Takanashi is justified in limiting Anzu’s exposure to Kaoru, or whether he’s just being  overprotective and even petty. Ishino and Takanashi make up in front of Anzu to calm her, but it isn’t long before they’re at it again, and this time it’s when he brings up Sakurada.

He asks, and almost orders Ishino not to go on the date with Sakurada, a serious request that he treats with his usual teasing jocularity (doesn’t want anyone taking his “pet”). While Takanashi is again trying his best to say what he wants to say, the fact is his best isn’t quite good enough. He has to be better.

He runs after a crying Ishino to apologize, and also properly explain his feelings: he feels like she’ll be an important part of his life, and if he lets her go on a date with his friend, he will regret it. So he asks if she’ll be his girlfriend, a question Ishino has been waiting for so long it barely feels real.

It’s been a recurring joke for him to immediately reject her when she asks him, but when he finally asks her, she’s just as quick in saying “yes.” Then he kisses her, daring to open a “door to a frightening world”, but opening it nonetheless. I have no doubt he’ll still tease her (and she’ll tease him back) but at least now there’s no doubt about his feelings.

Shifting from Newly-formed couples to Recently-formed couples, Itou ends up alone at Ayado’s house when something “comes up” with her parents. After four hours of wholesome video game-playing, Ayado can’t take it anymore: she wants to make out.

Itou worries that he’d be betraying her parents’ trust in him if he did anything with her, but Ayado disagrees. Ayado wants him to do something, and will be dejected and miserable if he doesn’t. You’re good, dude…Carry On. And carry on they do…though the episode is somewhat coy about how far.

Back to the couple that inspired all these new doors being opened: Iroha comes over for dinner with Hikari’s whole family again and has an absolute blast, as always. She loves how kind his family is, and how it explains why he’s so kind. Case in point: he offers to walk Iroha home, but she declines.

I can’t have been the only one to think that slightly awkward goodbye was foreboding, and what do you know, the next day Iroha is at the hospital talking with the doctor Hikari thought she was dating back in the beginning, telling her “it has to stop,” presumably due to her undisclosed health condition.

While new doors have been opened for the others, it looks like Iroha and Hikari’s is going to start closing. It’s something both of them have known would eventually come to pass. I just wish we had more of an explanation about why there’s such a seemingly firm clock on her life expectancy. At least Hikari deserves to know, even if it crushes him.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 19 – Tabasco In The Orange Juice

From Iroha slapping her brother with a wet towel when he accuses her geeky boyfriend of dragging her down to his level, to Hikari showing that he’s grown into a far better boyfriend than Iroha’s boyfriend could imagine, I loved every minute of this episode.

It was full of instances of friends leaning on one another in times of need, quickly sorting out misunderstandings, and, of course, Ishino gettin’ some legit attention from a guy other than Takanashi! The only major mark against this episode is that there’s no Ayado, but that allows the episode to maximize its time with everyone else.

First, a brief rift between Itou and Hikari emerges when Itou asks Takanashi for advice on how to proceed with Ayado. Hikari knows he’s not the one to go to for advice of that nature, but is still embarrassed enough to avoid Itou, until Itou himself calls him out and they sort it out together.

Itou assures him every couple goes at its own pace, and that if Hikari doesn’t even intend to go all the way with Iroha (as Itou suspects he will with Ayado, very soon), Itou respects and will support him. It’s some very mature conversation between best mates, clarifying that this isn’t a race!

Speaking of early bloomers, Kaoru comes to Takanashi’s house to apologize for keeping Anzu out late, but manages to pierce Takanashi’s innate distrust and loathing for All Things Tsutsui with a heartfelt monologue about why he loves Anzu and wants to help her big brother keep her safe. Still, Takanashi is frustrated enough with Kaoru’s shrewdness that he decides to take it out on Hikari, who after all only wants some of the same advice as Itou.

While heading back downstairs from the roof, Takanashi very clearly tries to get the attention of Ishino, and ask her if she’s free for…something. But his friend, who met Ishino at the maid cafe, asks her out first, having already gotten a half-hearted okay from Takanashi to pursue her. It’s clear despite his aloof attitude, Takanashi doesn’t like his friend spending all this time with Ishino. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve had until you’ve lost it!

Hikari and Ishino have been just humming along, but with another three-day weekend coming up Iroha wants to go on a trip…an overnight trip—to eat and see the sights in another town. But Hikari is overwhelmed by the possibility that they may end up doing it, and gets so stuck in his head he appears outwardly opposed to and stressed out about going on the trip, and Iroha drops the issue and heads home.

For her part, Ishino told Hikari before he met with Iroha to just get fucking laid already…though at the same time no one reinforces Hikari’s own insecurities and sense of non-worth than Ishino, even though she’s just messing around.

But Ishino now finds herself in a bit of a love triangle. I doubt this new guy (I didn’t even hear his name) is anything other than a means to show Takanashi that he actually does requite Ishino’s feelings, at least to some degree, whether it’s true love or he’s simply pleasantly accustomed to having her around.

Ishino assumes the worst; that he’s some kind of playboy just trying to get in her pants. I’m not 100% convinced that’s not the case either. Good luck, Ishino! As for Takanashi, he should take after his friends and reconcile his feelings.

Hikari, good man that he is, doesn’t spend days worrying about what a shit he is, and corrects himself almost immediately, actually taking the time to look at the travel books Iroha marked, then running after her, embracing her from behind, and agreeing that it will be a fun time. He just had to get out of his own head, and put himself in her shoes: she must have been excited to tell him about the trip, and was looking forward to it since the last three-day weekend.

Unfortunately, due to Iroha’s poor test scores, she has to take remedial classes over the weekend, but Hikari assures her they’ll go the next time. Here’s hoping there is one—it would be a great step forward for their relationship.

Houseki no Kuni – 12 (Fin)

Padparadscha isn’t around long (she falls asleep mere hours after waking up for the first time in over two centuries), but makes the most of their time, and thanks in no small part to androgynous voice expert Romi Park, “Paddy” (my nickname, not the show’s) makes an impact both on me and Phos.

The last time Paddy was awake, Phos was just a cute “little pebble” hiding behind Master’s robes. Now Paddy seems impressed with the person Phos has become. While walking and talking—Paddy’s open shirt, tattoo-like chest spots, uneven socks and method of sword-holding all call to mind a wise old samurai—Phos trusts Paddy enough to mention wanting to talk with the Lunarians.

Paddy gives Phos some sage advice: pure truth can leave wounds as bad as lies; Phos must keep her composure and be mindful of her actions. Later, Phos—motionless and covered in butterflies—ponders the next move.

Like Paddy, Zircon showed up late in the story, but as a foreground character, Z’S little self-contained story works well enough. Around the same age as Phos, Z has a crisis of confidence when partnering with Bort, who doesn’t say a word the whole time. Z doesn’t think she can compete with Phos after being “surpassed”, but Phos, not only more capable but also more confident than Zircon, assures Z Bort’s silence is a good thing.

Meanwhile, Yellow Diamond, having lost Z as a partner, seeks Paddy’s company as fellow old farts, only to find Paddy is asleep again. While these little stories of Paddy, Rutile, Zircon and Yellow are interesting, they also come in very quick succession, suggesting the kind of grab-bag final episode trying to offer as many different tastes as it can in the event a second season never comes…which would be a huge shame, IMO.

Back to Phos, who is trying to remember Kongou’s training, but considering how much of Phos body has been lost, memory gaps hardly come as a surprise. Phos does remember a nice little memory of being taught by Kongou as the older Gems watched, in awe of lil’ Phos’ cuteness. Like Sengaku Nadeko, Phos was once quite spoiled, indolent, and reliant on cuteness. Now, where the memory can’t serve Phos, Phos goes to those who can, like Alex and the large archive of Lunarian lore.

Alex also clears up a misunderstanding Phos and others may have cultivated: it isn’t love or admiration that drives Alex to study and pore over the details of Lunarians; rather, it’s Alex’s enduring hatred of them, especially after they stole Chrysoberyl away.

Adequately brought up to speed on Lunarians, the next time Phos encounters them, Phos immediately makes an attempt to isolate one of them within the alloy membrane in order to attempt communication.

All Phos gets out of the Lunarian is the appearance of eyeballs in its eyes, and “F–” which could’ve been a gasp, or the beginning of a word. It is interrupted when Cinnabar swoops in to destroy the Lunarians, obviously unaware of Phos’ intentions and simply assuming Phos was in danger. However, just watching Cinnabar work gets Phos thinking about the promise to find “new work.”

That line of thinking leads Phos back to Cinnabar (much to Cinnabar’s shock) where Phos finally announces she’s found something other than night watch for Cinnabar. A blushing Cinnabar, ever vigilant about the details of such an important promise, reminds Phos that the promise was for a “better” job, not just a different one.

Phos can’t promise the job being offered will be better, and even predicts it could be much, much worse (truths opening new wounds an all that). In a powerfully-acted dramatic, even romantic scene I would have never have expected of early Phos (except in jest of course), Phos explains the need to have someone by Pho’s side to offer an opinion, even and especially if it differs from what Phos sees.

Cinnabar counters that no partnership can be accepted unless Phos has a plan for the hard part, after their investigations, if Master Kongou turns out to be the bad guy. Phos accepts this, then departs after deeming Cinnabar “extraordinarily prudent and clever.” But Cinnabar, trying to fight back the seething distrust of all others, catches up to Phos, and could be open to simply teaming up after all.

After that, another day in the life in the Land of the Lustrous starts, and Phos is suddenly summoned by Kongou. The little pebble who hid behind him is no more; Phos is on a mission to find the truth, but doesn’t necessarily want to destroy the harmony of the land because of that truth. All Phos can do is report to Kongou, maintain her composure, and be mindful of her actions.

Does Kongou know of Phos’ plans and suspicions? In that case, would he be open to hearing Phos out, as Phos is eager to hear him out? Or would he be eager to silence or neutralize her as an imminent threat to the harmony? There are so many possibilities: Gems taking sides for and against Kongou if the truth spread; an en masse loss of innocence to match those of Phos and Cinnabar.

Unfortunately, I have no idea when or even if we’ll be able to witness Land of the Lustrous explore these possibilities further in anime form. A overlooked Fall underdog that surged from under 7 to over 8 over its 12-episode run, Hoseki no Kuni turned out to be a revelation, and Phos’ transformation from clumsy layabout to possible hero to all gem-kind is one of the season’s best arcs.

I’ll miss Phos, the rest of the Gems, their gorgeous world, ethereal foes, and elegant combat, and sincerely hope there’ll be more to watch down the road.

Saekano 2 – 08

~Revised from an earlier review~

Here it is: the much-anticipated episode in which Tomoya tries to make up with Megumi. He, and we, spend the entire episode with Megumi and only Megumi, for what feels like the first time in a long while. He ultimately succeeds, and she even ends up in his bed (get your head out of the gutter)!

I know full well no matter how “far” Tomoya seems to get with one girl or another, he may never actually choose one. And yet I can’t deny that one of the reasons I’ve stuck with the show is that there are episodes like these (and the previous ones with Utaha and Eriri) in which Tomoya comes very close to choosing, to the point where the featured girl is his choice of the week, and all others fall away.

Megumi straight-up dismisses the possibility she might like Tomoya, which is discouraging both to me and to Tomoya. But the truth is, Megumi’s dismissal of the possibility feels more and more hollow as the two to share a night of food (and underwear) shopping, cooking, talking, bathing, and finally sleeping over, that wouldn’t be out of place for an old married couple.

Megumi is reliably adorable throughout, and Tomoya is lucky to be in her presence. Entering his house first (where his parents are away), giving him a taste of her curry, wiping food off his face—this is the Tomoya and Megumi I love so much: glorious in their mundane domesticity.

The longer we spend with Tomoya and Megumi in such intimate environment, the less certain Megumi’s earlier rebuff of Tomoya’s “tentative” theory about her feels. I mean, if these two aren’t a couple, then nobody is, right?  I’m not taking crazy pills here.

While quick to reject Tomoya at the mere mention of being jealous of him and Eriri, Megumi couldn’t help but show her hand both then and throughout the episode. Tomoya is his usual dense self in accepting the rejection, but the evening he proceeds to share with Megumi surely have him questioning the finality of that exchange in the A/V room.

Saekano 2 – 07

It’s been two months since Winter Comiket, and Cherry Blessing has done well in both sales and critical reception. But with their first game released, Blessing Software is at a crossroads. Utaha is finishing up her newest novel, while Eriri is still blowing past art deadlines (what she’s painting, we never see).

Tomoya’s rival Iori surmises that Cherry was able to surpass his game in reviews (if not in sales) because both writer and artist grew and surpassed themselves. Now that the trio has been through it all together, the girls are far less careful about how they act at school around Tomoya.

Tomoya, Eri, and Utaha are all getting along swimmingly post-Comiket, but Tomoya has been unable to make any progress whatsoever in making up with Megumi. She gives him a listless “good morning” and doesn’t answer her phone when he calls her.

That ignored call is the beginning of Tomoya starting to actually stop and carefully consider everything Megumi had done for and with him, and the manner in which treated her in return. Because he took her commitment lightly and shut her out at a crucial moment, she’s not picking up now to discuss with him the pros and cons of a new, second game.

Valentine’s Day arrives, and when he brings up the possibility of giving her more work, Eriri simply wants more time to relax, not worry about such things, give him chocolate, take his arm and walk with him.

To her chagrin, he has lunch with Utaha, who also gives him chocolate, and offers to sign her real name (not her pen name) “all over his body”, in a classic Utaha tease that’s probably more sincere than Tomoya is willing to realize.

Utaha also released her latest novel, and plans to start another soon. Since she’s already in university, she won’t be coming to school anymore after today. So Tomoya asks her, almost desperately, if she’d write for him again.

Despite her resentment of Tomoya’s protectiveness with Eriri, she bashfully admits she wants to make another game with her. Eriri, out in the hall making sure Utaha doesn’t make any moves, hears Utaha’s warm tone.

If Tomoya can come up with an idea, it looks like Utako Kasumi and Kashiwagi Eri are all on board. Which leaves Megumi (sorry Hyoudou, you’re not a main!). Tomoya makes an effort to track her down, but she slips out just as school ends. He spots her eating alone in a cafe, texts her a request for a circle meeting, and watches her not ignore it, giving him hope that maybe their friendship hasn’t “run its natural course” quite yet after all.

Then he goes home, and late into the night, he plays Cherry Blessing through. Playing it brings up all of the memories he has of Megumi working tirelessly by his side to make the game such a success, and how little appreciation he showed in his words, actions, or lack thereof. So Tomoya curls up in shame. At last—a glimmer of self-awareness from the guy.

Thinking of her also inspires Tomoya to come up with a title for the upcoming game he’ll aim to release in time for Summer Comiket: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend. Meta! Here’s hoping he can make proper amends—and Megumi is willing to take the fool back.

Saekano 2 – 06

Both the immediate (Eriri collapsing) and long-term (finishing the game) crises are resolved this week, with one major caveat: to rescue Eriri, Tomoya gave up on a full Winter Comiket release, even though that’s the reason Eriri ended up in such a state (that, and her obsession with quality with the threat of Hashima Izumi looming).

Ironically, it’s Izumi’s bro (and Tomoya’s chief rival) Iori who comes to Tomoya’s aid, offering a ride to Eriri’s villa. Tomoya finds Eriri really did get everything done, and more to the point, he believes it’s her best work and the best work he’s seen all year.

That brings a smile to the gradually-recovering Eriri, but she’s even happier to hear him say, categorically, that she’s his “number one;” that her new art is better than Izumi’s. She doesn’t mind that he doesn’t go so far as to tell her she’s beaten Utaha and Michiru, but she happily infers it.

After that, the two settle back into the same routine as when they were little kids: staying indoors, playing games and watching anime, which Tomoya both notes was because Eriri was so sick so often, but also doesn’t complain about.

He goes further in wanting to apologize to the others in Eriri’s stead, as he’s the director and all, but Eriri insists: if she can’t apologize properly, she can’t keep moving forward. So she does so, and the whole crew is on hand for Winter Comiket…albeit with only 100 hastily burned copies of Cherry Blessing.

It’s shocking how quickly all the work they’d done suddenly becomes a finished product, which sells out within 30 minutes due to lots of buzz about a new game with studs like Kashiwagi and Kasumi collaborating. At the market, Eriri also apologizes to Izumi for how she treated her, and explains why she did (fear of being surpassed).

Yet in the midst Eriri dispensing all of her apologies and the team dispensing every last copy of their game, something seems off. The camera uncharacteristically lingers on Megumi too often, and she seems to be hiding something that will certainly rain on the parade of the big release.

Content to quietly skip the post-release party and go home for the time being, when Tomoya forces the issue, she finally has a very Kato-ish “outburst”, one that cuts Tomoya to the quick, far more than if she had yelled or cried. In his haste to save Eriri, he neglected to tell her about anything that was going on, during the precise days she said she’d make sure she was available for him, no matter what.

Tomoya took her earnest promises and commitments lightly, and ultimately ignored them altogether and took everything on himself, keeping her in the dark until everything worked out. That is something Megumi cannot forget, nor easily forgive.

As happy as I am to see Tomoya and Eriri on such good terms again, I can’t say I blame Megumi. If getting out of the doghouse is even possible, Tomoya, with his famous lack of awareness, may find doing so even tougher than making a dating sim from scratch.

Fuuka – 06

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This episode of Fuuka has no band/light music club practice, no Mikasa, Nachi or Iwami, and precious little Fuuka. Instead, true to its title, it’s all Hinashi Koyuki all the time, starting with a particularly bad day at the recording studio. Koyuki just can’t manage to find her voice, and it’s likely largely due to “Nico-kun” being back in her life.

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First, we look back on their friendship, when she seemed to have much harder edges and a tomboy streak. Yuu was a crybaby prone to moping, but took direction well, and genuinely seemed to enjoy spending time with Koyuki, adventuring and such. Indeed, at this time, Yuu liked Koyuki, he just couldn’t muster the courage to say anything.

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As for Koyuki, her home situation isn’t great, as she cries herself to sleep as her parents war downstairs. When she becomes a child of divorce and moves to Tokyo with her mother, her friendship with Yuu is tragically cut short, just when they’d made promises not just to make snowmen, but to start a band like their mutual favorite – HEDGEHOGS – and share the stage one day.

I understand Koyuki’s attraction to Yuu and vice-versa a little more now now – they were largely each other’s only and best friends. People fall for their besties all the time. Yuu, for Koyuki, was an escape from her unpleasant home. Koyuki drew courage and chivalry out of Yuu.

It’s just a bit unfortunate Yuu tells her he “likes it better when she smiles”, because it plants a seed in her head that her smile around him is some kind of prerequisite for him liking her. I’m sure ‘lil Yuu didn’t mean it that way, but still…

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Fast-forward to now, and when Yuu admits he avoided contacting her out of fear she hated him—when she avoided contacting him out of fear he hated her—the assertive Tama-chan comes back out, inadvertently bringing out the mopey, submissive Nico-kun. It’s a nice scene, because A.) it lets us see another side of Koyuki and B.) it shows how quickly their old dynamic from when they were kids can reassert itself.

When Yuu talks about the band Fuuka made him and others join, it really irks Koyuki, to the point she can’t listen anymore and has to go. She leaves on cordial, even upbeat terms, however, as she gets Yuu to renew their deferred promise to share the stage someday.

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Koyuki then gets splashed by a truck just when Fuuka happens to be running by, and invites her into the bathhouse she lives above. Koyuki gets to take the measure of her potential rival, and Fuuka’s bubbly exuberance and physicality contrasts nicely with Koyuki’s more modest, solemn bearing. Koyuki also learns Fuuka has never even thought of being in a relationship, which buoys her spirits as she heads home: maybe regaining Yuu’s affections won’t be so hard after all, eh? Riiiight.

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And because we can’t have two episodes of Fuuka in a row end on an upbeat note, we end instead with two amateur photogs in a “Starbuccos” looking over a shot of Koyuki and Yuu pinkie-promising in his street. I wouldn’t be surprised if this ends up on a tabloid magazine cover Fuuka happens to notice while walking by a newsstand, or something.

I’ll just close by saying I didn’t much mind the dearth of music or band practice this week, because, if I may confess, I don’t much care for that part of this show. It may yet change my mind, but for now I’m content with the relationship stuff.

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Fuuka – 05

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Fuuka continues to cement its role as my guilty pleasure of the Winter, thanks to its utterly shameless tendency to put protagonist Haruna Yuu in the most favorable situations imaginable, and still have him complain about it. That might sound unpleasant, but it’s actually pretty fun.

Adorable childhood friend coming by his house to reminisce? Sure, why not? Flipping through photo albums, where most of the pics are of Koyuki yelling at Yuu for various reasons, most of them related to him being a pushover? You got it! Yuu managing to blurt out that he liked her then…b-b-but not now! Seriously! (Now as well.)

Koyuki leaves suddenly, which Yuu takes as meaning he said the wrong thing, but little does he know she’s weeping tears of joy at the news her love wasn’t one-sided. I still don’t see her beating Fuuka. Fuuka’s the title.

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You know what this show didn’t need? Another girl! Especially not one who is impossibly tall and gorgeous, like she just jumped out of a magazine or something. But we get one nonetheless in the person of Iwami Sara, who seems very standoffish and aloof but I’m sure is really sweet deep down.

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She also happens to be the sister of Hisashi, one of the members of Hedgehogs (styled as HEDGEHOGS…because you have to YELL IT) who also graciouslly offers the use of one of his studios for the new light music club to practice…free of charge. Where’s this guy’s sense of entrepreneurialism?

In any case, the band…kinda sucks, particularly Yuu and Fuuka, but Sara is kicked off her third band and Fuuka decides to invite her into theirs, and the girl can not only play, but look very cool doing it.

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After practice they head over to Denny’s, I mean Danny’s, which—wait a second…

Kuzu no Honkai – 03

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Oh, that was Banny’s, not Danny’s. Nevermind…

…Back to Fuuka – 05

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Anyhow, the whole band is at some Denny’s ripoff, when all of a sudden everyone has somewhere to be…except Yuu and Sara. Did I mention Yuu’s face accidentally made contact with Sara’s boobs? Yeah…that happened, and then she smacked him in the face with a guitar, which should have caused a lot more damage to Yuu than it did. The magic of anime!

I’ve been ragging on this episode up to this point, but I have to say, I did not expect Sara to end up being one of Yuu’s best Twitter buddies, @0704-yamato.

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It happens so subtly as you expect Sara to be bored and checking her phone with just Yuu there struggling to find words to say. Turns out Sara’s the same way: finding it far easier to communicate through tweets than with her vocal cords, which so often uses the wrong words, or the right words the wrong way, resulting in misunderstandings (and getting kicked off bands).

When Yuu first started tweeting I was like “Oh great, this gimmick again,” but it paid off big league here, from the sundae, to Sara’s sudden change of character, for which she actually apologizes for by saying “sorry for the sudden change in character!”

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The next practice, held not at the full-up studio, but at Nachi’s ideal place (which he withheld so it didn’t look like he was as into this band thing as he really was), everyone has practiced a lot more, and they play a much smoother version of the show’s theme song, “Climber’s High!”

When Sara’s praise of Yuu’s progress is interrupted by Fuuka’s praise, and Yuu thanks her, Sara punishes him for allowing the interruption by jamming her guitar into his back. So this is how it’s gonna be, huh? Look out Koyuki: you’ve got more competition. (Note: next week’s episode is titled “Hinashi Koyuki”. Should be interesting.

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Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu – 02

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Now that Bunta has agreed to make a bishoujo game with Kuroda, he must be properly initiated into the world, which Kuroda achieves by leaving a choice selection of games in his shoe locker. She also shows him where the magic will eventually happen: the room she has reserved for the “Marketing Research Club”, which she helpfully points out is just a front in another quirky discussion between the two.

The Bishoujo Club has a producer in Kuroda and a writer in Bunta, but they’re short, a minimum, four more staff positions: for lead animation, programming, CG Art, and voice acting. She uses English-based acronyms to describe these jobs, but since this isn’t my first otaku rodeo, I found her explanations to Bunta somewhat redundant.

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Despite Kuroda’s belief his social skills would make him the perfect recruiter, Bunta brings back a bunch of unmotivated poseurs. Then Yuuka and Atomu barge into the club to look around, and Bunta realizes Yuuka would be perfect for the voice actress role (of course she is; she’s Hanazawa!) and Yuuka herself is interested in voice acting, even if she doesn’t much care for games.

That leaves Atomu, who isn’t sure how he can contribute, and fails to impress Kuroda…until the subject of dating comes up, and he goes on a bitter rant about how fickle girls are and how he wants nothing more but to abandon the 3D world for 2D paradise. That gets Kuroda’s applause, and she appoints him assistant director.

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Kuroda continues the initiation of her new club members by returning to Akiba. Strangely, Bunta acts like he’s there for the first time despite having gone there just last week with Kuroda alone. Maybe now that he’s into games he’s seeing the place with freshly opened eyes?

There, Kuroda shows them some very nice doujin works (including some by pros) and boldly proclaims they’ll create a game that will leave all the others in the dust. This isn’t a labor of love for her, results matter. Especially when her brother runs a highly successful game company.

After the group breaks up for the day, Bunta visits a maid cafe…where his classmate Andou Teruha just happens to work part-time in secret under the work name “Luka.” I thought sparks would fly, but both parties keep their cool, with Teruha switching from her normal deep voice to the bubbly Luka at the drop of a hat, while making clear her job will remain a secret (she doesn’t have to say “…or else”).

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After spending all night playing games he’s legitimately into, Kuroda’s next task is for him to acquire an artist. He’s not that good at discerning good art from bad, but that’s the person she wants searching for talent: if he’s moved by something, than it’s going to be something special.

Sure enough, while perusing the wares at a bookstore, he comes across a little sign drawn in a style that makes his heart flutter. His research determines it was done by  “Hokikiyo”, alias of the top-ranked-on-Pixi Yuuki Uguisu, who also just happens to attend their school as a first-year, and works at the bookstore Bunta visited.

However, she’s also a painfully skittish milquetoast, however, so the club’s aggressive attempts to recruit her fail at first (i.e., drawing her out with a love letter and then surrounding her menacingly).

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It’s when Teruha sits beside a frustrated Bunta and learns he’s making a girl game and looking for “Hokekiyo”, Teruha reveals she’s a fujoshi (another term defined by side-chatter), is familiar with her work, and helps recruit her, cornering her in the girl’s lavatory and bringing her to the club room. Everyone praises her enough to convince her to createart for their game, though she quietly confesses she really wants to draw for an eroge.

Teruha herself also joins the club as a programmer, and just like that, the team has been assembled, presumably leaving the rest of the show to the production of the game. On this efficiency, I’m a little torn: quickly getting the “building the team” out of the way is satisfying in its way, but it relied on an awful lot of convenient coincidences.

Also, and this is could be an ongoing thing if the two episodes are any indication: the characters all feel rather smoothed over, subdued; as if they lack sharp edges; Atomu’s “breaking”moment being the lone exception. The characterization and accompanying comedy often walks a fine line between understated and overly buttoned-up, even to the point of tedium.

I hope it doesn’t stray too far to the latter side. What with all the intros, there wasn’t a lot of time to go in depth with anyone. Perhaps the show will find a stronger voice once the game-making gets underway in earnest.

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Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu – 01 (First Impressions)

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Haruchika and Prince of Stride had pleasant enough first episodes, but weren’t particularly dazzling or earth-shattering. To be honest neither is Shoujo-tachi wa Kouya wo Mezasu, but it did do something more often than those other two shows: it made me laugh, and it impressed me with its characterization and snappy-ish dialogue. So far, SKM reminds me of a quieter, less punchy, less fanservice-y Saekano.

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Continuing the theme of honesty into this second paragraph, none of the characters in SKM are staggeringly unique, but they’re well-executed and I quickly came to root for not only the hard-working, gregarious Houjou Buntarou, but also his little circle of friends, the “inconveniently popular” Kai Atomu and in particular his good female buddy/possible childhood friend Kobayakawa Yuuka, a talented girl who wants “to do everything she wants to do” whom Hanazawa Kana breathes life into.

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While the raven-haired loner maiden Kuroda Sayki gazes mysteriously from afar, “Bunta”, as everyone calls him, is always in the thick of it, whether it’s seeing to everyone’s needs at the restaruant where he works, to shooting the breeze with his neighbors, to settling classroom disputes amicably. He’s a nice guy; the only problem is, unlike Yuuka, he has no idea what he truly wants to do.

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Enter Kuroda. In a uncomfortably funny (but not vulgar) scene in the men’s room, she has a very interesting (and also funny) conversation with Buntarou, likely the longest one he’s ever had with her by far. It’s full of compliments: he’s observant, in tune with the needs of those around him, and knowledgeable about the “leisure areas” of town. Their talk ends with Kuroda asking him to arrange a date for them on Saturday, so she can tell him something she can’t say at school.

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From the get-go, I had the feeling this wasn’t anything as simple as a date with a girl who likes him, but rather some kind of evaluation by a girl who might find him useful. Nevertheless, Bunta proceeds as if it were a conventional date, complete with accepting Yuuka’s offer to put him in touch with an underclassman known as the “Bitch Queen” who offers him sage advice on tomorrow. Her line about “cladding herself in innocence for the sake of her bitchiness” was pretty amusing, and I hope we get to put a face to the voice.

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The day of the “date” arrives, and Kuroda encourages Bunta to take the lead, showing her a good time at the amusement park while responding to most of his personal queries with “it’s a secret.” By sundown, he realizes what we viewers realized, but like me, he knows there’s nothing sinister about her motives.

Rather, she takes him to a game store in Akiba, shows him the value of the successful games versus the failures, and lays out what she wants: to make a bishoujo game with him. She believes he has the writing chops and the personality to help make her dreams come true.

As for the details of those dreams, all she’ll tell him is that “the world is a wasteland” where “the innocent are only devoured”, and wants to strike out and stake her claim in that wasteland with Bunta by her side. Bunta, unsure of what to do up until now, has been given an intriguing opportunity; he’d best not waste it!

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Sword Art Online II – 24 (Fin)

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SAO completed the Sleeping Knights’ mission and resolved Asuna’s family problems to my satisfaction, leaving one episode to do, well, whatever it wanted as a curtain call. Preston seemed pretty miffed that she watched so much Chaika only to get a rudely rushed finale, but I knew that wasn’t going to be the case here.

The episode opens with a barbecue at Asuna and Kirito’s cabin; an opportunity for her new friends to meet her old friends. A montage follows, showing how they go on to fight more battles and go on missions as a united super-party, along with Asuna hanging out with her friends in the real world.

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But this isn’t just a goodbye to SAO, it’s a goodbye for Yuuki as well, who takes a turn for the worst. There’s nothing out of left field about this, though Asuna is still distraught that so soon after meeting Yuuki the universe means to rip her away.

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The Yuuki of the real world is too weak to talk, so Asuna grabs an Amusphere and meets her where they first met, on the isle with the great tree. Seeing the hale, healthy, and alert Yuuki there is a sight for sore eyes, but we know it won’t last long. This is her last full dive, and this time when she logs out, she won’t be waking up.

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There’s not much to say about Yuuki’s sendoff, except that it was pretty much perfectly done. Yes, it got pretty mushy there (even my roommate, who was watching SAO for the first time, teared up a little bit) but the emotions that let loose here were earned a long time ago. Asuna summons not only the other Sleeping Knights to say goodbye to Yuuki properly, but hundreds if not thousands of fellow players gather to pray for her safe journey to the hereafter, a fitting farewell to the finest swordsperson in the game.

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Yuuki could not have imagined a better way to go either; surrounded by friends and admirees alike; closing her eyes for the last time in the arms of someone she’s come to love like a sister. At her memorial service in the real world, those same masses from the game come to pay their respects, and Asuna is surprised to be able to meet Siune (An Si-eun), who took a turn for the better when her leukemia went into full remission not long after saying goodbye to Yuuki.

She also reports that at least one other Sleeping Knight seems to be on the mend as well. These aren’t taken as miracles endowed upon them by the departed Yuuki, but her love and strength, as well as Asuna’s, obviously helped their spirits and mindsets. And it’s understood that not all of the Knights will get better.

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Asuna also learns that Kirito knows Kurahashi too, and Kurahashi tells them that the original designs that led to the creation of the medical full-dive technology that’s now in development (and vastly helped by Yuuki’s cooperation in her last days) were created by none other than the late Kayaba Akihito AKA Heathcliff, the creator of SAO; an interesting (if sudden and oddly-timed) callback.

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We close with Asuna and Kirito enjoying a picnic with Sugu, Shino, Klein and the others in a park in Shinjuku. Yui is on Asuna’s shoulder, with eyes and ears to the real world, and probably more in the near future. Kirito and Asuna reiterate their desire to never leave each others’ sides, and as long as she keeps her grades up, she’ll be able to honor that desire. So Kirito…where’s the ring?

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Sword Art Online II – 23

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With the Sleeping Knight’s final victory sealed and her friendship with Yuuki forged and galvanized, Asuna still has a battle to fight; one that will define the rest of her life. And yet, here she is, setting her own problems aside and working feverishly with Kirito to help Yuuki ‘come to school’ via a remote-controlled A/V interface. It cannot be said enough: Asuna is The Best.

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It occurs to me that this like the first time in the whole two-season run of the anime (that I can remember anyway) where we sit down with Asuna’s class and just go through the normal school motions, without any other distractions (the virtual Yuuki on Asuna’s shoulder excepted). That, and the almost eerie, dreamlike way the classroom is lit, along with the enthusiasm of the class itself, gives this ordinarily mundane scene so much more weight and significance.

We’re seeing things, like Yuuki, for the first time. The cut to Yuuki in the school uniform as she gives a tremendously moving reading of “The Truck” — a story that starts with somebody looking from afar at something and wishing they could be there — so beautiful. I’m not surprised the class is enthralled by the reading, and Asuna, who can hear Yuuki’s experiences and feelings beyond the words of the book, even gets teary-eyed, as did I.

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Beautiful, contemplative, and tremendously moving — all are great adjectives to describe this episode, which I think is SAO’s best ever, despite not having one sword in it and only spending a small portion of its time in the virtual world. The first half of the episode is all about Asuna showing Yuuki both the world as it is that she’d never seen, and her life that was, in her hometown and abandoned family home.

Their entire walk, like the school scene, is filmed and lit extra-beautifully so as to underscore what a special occasion it is for Yuuki. Asuna (and Kirito) literally gave her the ability to exist in the real world again, if only in a limited way. Asuna doesn’t know it, but she’s about to be rewarded for her immense kindness.

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Yuuki talks about her mother, and how being here and now finally allows her to understand what her mother meant when she said: “God does not give us more suffering than we can bear”. She thought at first it was only another recited bible verse, but realized that her mother was surrounding and infusing those words with her own feelings and experience, as Yuuki herself did with her class reading.

Asuna tells Yuuki about own problems with her mother, and Yuuki gives her the advice she needs, borne out of the experience Asuna made possible for her, and burnished by the fact that every day Yuuki lives—be it in the real or virtual world—is to be treasured, and not wasted hiding one’s true feelings, or running away.

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Again, look how dark the room Asuna’s mother Kyouko is sitting in when she comes to her that night. They have been talking at each other rather than actually communicating, and the darkness represents their present impasse. Yet SAO II is smart and I daresay bold considering its past problems with bad guys to not portray Kyouko as just another unreasonable, irredeemable villain to be defeated and shamed.

There is hope for Asuna to connect with her mother; she just needs to figure out how to get her feelings to reach her, and how to reach her mom’s feelings as well. It’s clear to her that that can’t be done in the real world, face-to-face. Instead, she brings her mother a headset and begs her to join her in the virtual world so she can say what she has to say properly.

The office is dark, but it is also warm. There’s still hope and love in there somewhere.

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Kyouko, always driving the hard bargain, grudgingly agrees, but only for five minutes, and Asuna must first understand that she won’t be changing her mind about her having to transfer. She also demands Asuna fill out the necessary paperwork as soon as her five minutes are up.

The scene when Asuna logs in and finds Kyouko in her cabin, checking out the Sylph sub-account avatar Asuna assigned to her, is just so funny and charming, particularly when she and Asuna get in a little mini-spat about each others’ weights, which is such a mom-daughter thing to do…especially if both are lookers, which they are.

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The cabin is oddly cool in color and lighting, but like the school, the change gives what had been a routine locale for Asuna and Kirito’s crew much more of a sense of occasion and ‘special-ness’, because her mom is there for the first time. When she opens the window and the cold hush of the snowy forest fills the speakers, things get even more immersive.

Then we learn another reason why the cabin has so much sentimental value to Asuna, beyond her time there with Kirito and the others: it’s not at all unlike the real world cabin where Asuna’s grandparents – Kyouko’s parents – used to live. And one Obon when Asuna was there with them alone, and they told her how much their daughter Kyouko was a treasure to them, rising so fast and touching so many lives as a result of working so tirelessly to become great.

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Here, in that cabin, Asuna can tell her mother that while there’s nothing particularly wrong with putting the betterment of oneself above all else, it can’t be her way of life. She wants to support others, protect them, and improve their lives, while improving her own in the process. I’m not putting it nearly as eloquently or beautifully as Asuna, obviously, but it was a phenomenal exchange, perhaps one of the best in the show’s run.

T_T *Sniffle*…oh gosh, it’s so dusty in here. Does anyone have any Kleenex?

Heck, even Asuna’s mom tears up…a lot. While in the real world she can stifle her tears with her ‘armor’; here she can’t, and they come flowing out from the power of Asuna’s words. Her mom’s response to this: “What an inconvenient world”, is just such a perfect thing her character would say under such circumstances. Just one of so many great lines in this episode.

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The next morning, to Asuna’s relief, the dining room is full of light; her words and feelings reached her mother, no matter how stiff and stern she looks sitting there. She lauds her daughter’s desire to help and support others, but insists she do what is necessary to become strong enough to do that stuff, which means studying her fanny off, keeping her grades up, and getting into university.

If she can do those things, it’s fine for her to stay in the school she wants. It’s a transaction, a comrpomise; but it’s one arranged after the two parties had properly communicated, not one foisted upon the other, and so it’s one Asuna can live with.

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Aww, just look how goshdarn happy Asuna is. And she deserves it. She didn’t trick her mother or plunge a sword through her heart; she merely found a way to get what she needed to say through to her. That way was the virtual world, but in this case its trappings were that of Asuna’s memories and emotions, and not a wholly artificial fantasy world. SAO wasn’t just a game because lives were at stake; here Asuna uses ALO to fight for her life in a very different way, but it’s just as vital. And it’s all thanks to Yuuki’s moving, motivating words.

It’s a far better resolution to her conflict with her mother than I could have possibly hoped for. The writing really has soared in the Rosario Arc, as has the emotional resonance. This episode didn’t have a single sword fight or magic spell or crotch shot. Instead, it kept its characters shining even in the midst of considerable plot movements; and it moved me to tears more than once (though I’m told I’m a bit of a crybaby). For those reasons and far more, it is SAO’s best episode and masterpiece.

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