Heroines Run the Show – 08 – Photo Finish

With the departure of Nagisa (and, it would seem, Hiyori’s makeover) the show moves on to something else…Field Day, which always ends up a lot blander than the other big school event episode archetype, the cultural festival. That said, a jock like Hiyori lives for such days, and can’t understand why no one in her class wants to volunteer to run in the mixed relay with her.

The teacher has to choose, and he ends up putting Aizou and Yuujirou on the team. The boys are grumpy, as they didn’t think they had to participate in any events, but Tamura actualy made it so their schedule was free to enjoy their “youthful high school life”. They get a lot of attention from the girls, and invoke a lot of envy in the third-year boys.

They find out from Juri and Chizuru that a bunch of girls backed out of their assigned events, and Hiyori is just doing them in their place. At first they’re worried their messy-haired friend is taking to much on, but when they see how much goshdarn fun she’s having darting around like a pinball, they relax.

The field day is also the stage for three distinct couples: one of which we already know of in Hina and Kotarou, who ace the three-legged race by being perfectly in sync. Then there’s Aizou’s brother Ken, who decides to give up his casanova ways and choose one girl, the twin-tailed, slightly tsundere-ish Arisa. Finally, it’s clear when Yamamoto points his camera at Juri that he’s the BF she’s mentioned in passing.

Yuujirou gets the motivation he needs when three third-years try to rough him up; both he and Hiyori are saved by the bell for the relay, otherwise they might’ve started something. Aizou doesn’t care about winning…until his brother is his opponent. As for the fourth unnamed member of the relay team? She’s kinda just there…and I assume she’s their teacher’s kid sister?

Unnamed girl starts the race, but passes the baton cleanly to Yuujirou, who gets to run against one of the surly jealous third-years, and even passes him with his idol smile! It’s a win for Melancholy Cats (one of the listeners of LIPxLIP’s podcast) everywhere.

I would have thought Hiyori would be the last to run, but she’s second-to-last instead, running against her senpai Hina, who builds a bit of a lead for the final handoff. Aizou and Ken slug it out, cheered on by Aizou’s entire grade and a tentative Arisa, respectively. Ultimately, Aizou wins, and in an unguarded moment of joy, Hiyori gives both members of LIPxLIP a high five.

Certain she’s made an enemy of all the school’s fangirls, instead they follow her lead and a hearty exchange of high-fives ensues. Juri then reveals to Hiyori and Chizuru that Yamamoto is her boyfriend. Everyone has a wonderful time, and Hiyori will certainly sleep well later that night. As for me? Ehh. It was a perfectly fine Heroines Run the Show, but by no means the finest.

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 06 – Raidolympic Games

This week’s grab bag of athletic segments follow a consistent pattern: Raidou and Aharen try to participate in a certain activity, Raidou initially believes Aharen is either good or sucks at said activity, Aharen and Raidou gradually get better and have a tough match, and Raidou overestimates how good they are and they both get beaten by stiffer competition.

Despite being huge and relatively fit (except for that one segment where he was tubby) Raidou isn’t that great at…much of anything. In that regard, Aharen makes for a perfect opponent for him, as she’s not that great at anyting either but when they play together, two things happen: they get a little better, and they both have fun.

After Ooshiro teaches the two how to swim, Raidou and Aharen have a half-lap race that Aharen wins by staying underwater the whole time and holding her breath. They actually play to a draw in table tennis and bowling, the former match being cut short by the bell and the latter due to a comeback from Raidou after he starts throwing underhand while Aharen’s beginner’s luck wears off.

Their fourth contest is in basketball, where usually the taller or bigger player prevails, but Aharen channels Muggsy Bogues, who played in the NBA despite being only 5’3″ (160cm) tall. Aharen, like Bogues, darts around or under the towering opponent, using her quickness to get past him. She only loses when she misses her last bucket.

After watching a violent movie together (which technically counts as a completely off-camera date?!) the two try their hand at a two-player zombie-themed first-person shooter. While Raidou initially envisions himself to Leon to Aharen’s Mathilda in The Professional (one of my favorite films), he quickly dies, and Aharen shows that her lack of judging distance means she can headshot every enemy with ease, even while dual-wielding.

When Aharen goes to the bathroom at the arcade, Raidou quickly encounters her again by the crane game, but there’s something off about her; she’s way louder and more expressive than his Aharen. Assuming (naturally) that she’s suffering a sudden bout of amnesia, he simply shows her a good time…before the real Aharen shows up and reveals that the other Aharen is actually her little brother Ren, who likes to dress in her clothes.

The final segment before credits is the shortest but sweetest, as Raidou sneezes and comments that it’s gotten cold. Aharen “runs hot” so she hugs him to warm him up. When he asks her to let go, she withdraws behind a utility pole, which is suddenly too far away. While there’s no movement on their status as a dating high school couple, they both seem happy where things are at, so it’s all good.

In the post-credits segment Ren tries on more of Aharen’s clothes, and she asks him why. His answer—because they’re cute and he loves them—is good enough for her, and when he asks if he shouldn’t, she simply gives him a hug and says it’s fine.

Aharen-oneesan unconditionally supporting her cross-dressing brother might be one of her sweetest, most heartwarming moments yet. If anyone has a problem with him, they’ll have to deal with her…and her hulking kinda-sorta boyfriend!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 05 – Golf Eve Online: Aoization

After that doomed mad dash to the golf course in a poorly chosen classic car driven by Tinarina from Raw Time, Aoi feels betrayed…until she sees Eve’s ball soaring through the sky as the plane takes off. Once back in Japan Aoi tries to get back on the first flight to Nafrece, and she’s only stopped by Shinjou.

Aoi is feenin’ for Eve so hard, she barely manages a shrug at the appearance of her top amateur rival Himekwa Mizuho, and even lets slip to her mom/sponsor Seira that she met someone amazing at the tournament. Seira immediately launches an investigation into this “Eve Aleon”.

Meanwhile, Eve can think of nothing more than getting back on the course with Aoi. She’s listless, and needs to get the doe eyes from her three kid siblings to get off her ass and hustle Mr. Kevin a sixth or seventh time. She ultimately wins, since Lily buys pizza to celebrate, but it’s touch and go at the beginning of the three-hole game.

Eve just isn’t feeling the “heat” she felt at the tournament playing Eve, and worse still, thinks she may never feel that heat playing golf again. I mean, if you can’t play with your soul mate, what’s the point of anything? I be she wishes she’d gotten Aoi’s contact info, huh?

While Aoi and Eve struggle with being apart, Rose stops by Cathy’s HQ to collect the not inconsiderable payout she got when Eve beat Dollar Tree Morticia. Cathy wants to hire Eve to work exclusively, envisioning she can “service” fans even if she loses. Rose says that sounds like a great idea but probably wouldn’t fly.

Mind you, Rose most assuredly doesn’t discourage Cathy for Eve’s sake; Eve is a tool she wants to use to make money. Cathy knows this too, and so her pursuit of Eve has probably only just begun. As for Seira’s investigation, when she learns Eve is an “illegal golfer with mafia ties” she stops worrying about Aoi having a genuine rival.

To Seira, Eve is just a “pebble” on Aoi’s otherwise smooth road to success (and succession), but to Aoi, Eve is everything. When Clara introduces Eve to the concept of VR golf and how it’s particularly popular in Japan, Eve decides to try it out, presumably in the astronomically small chance she’ll run into Aoi virtually.

I love the whole VR setup, which is the kind of advanced SAO-style full-dive tech our world has a long way to go to achieving. The details are great, from how she’s so focused on golfing she lets the attendant dress her up as a techno cat maid, to the way the course uncannily moves so she doesn’t have to.

Rose’s manipulation of Eve’s motivation is so unyielding, she not only sends a message to Aoi in the middle of the night masked as a message from Eve, and shows Eve rankings that indicate there’s one player in all of VR-dom better than her…she listens in on the two when they inevitably reunite on the course, albeit a fake one.

And what a reunion it is, what with how wildly the two are dressed and how much they missed each other after such a short time. It’s clear even seeing virtual versions of each other (which aren’t that different from their real selves) really puts a spark back into both of them after how down they felt in each other’s absences.

Still, Eve is frustrated that she can’t play Aoi on a real golf course, so Aoi gets her to promise to meet her one one someday soon. That means getting on the youth golf tour for real—without “special invitations”, but if it’s to play golf with Aoi, Eve is ready to pinky swear. She would have, too, if she wasn’t suddenly logged off.

A tearful Lily is the one who logged her off, and she has terrible news…they’re about to lose their home. Is this more Rose fuckery, as in they can buy the place from whoever is taking it if Eve wins another match for her? I wouldn’t put it past her. Either way, if there’s a way out of this crisis, I’m sure it will be golf-related. Hell, it had better be…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 04 – Snakebit

When Aoi missed her putt, Eve confronts her angrily, thinking she let her win. But Aoi admits the miss was “her mistake”—apparently no one noticed Anri flashing a laser into Aoi’s eye before she putted, including Aoi herself. But she wants to have another go at a real game with Eve, so they agree to meet back at the course at 5 AM so they can play until her flight back to Japan.

Normally Eve would be able to keep such an appointment, but Catherine cashes in on Rose’s favor to her for letting Eve into the tournament that very night, and Rose and Anri deliver her to a massive configurable underground golf course. This is just the window-lickin’ craziest shit.

Eve is Catherine’s golfer, while her opponent in a real estate deal, fellow mobster Mr. Nicolas, has hired the thoroughly corny Vipère, a vampy minx in a leather catsuit. In addition to their employers’ bet, Vipère makes it interesting for her and Eve by saying whoever loses becomes the personal property of the other for a day.

Eve is neither amused nor impressed by all this nouveau riche and faux-vampiric posturing, and simply wants to get on with the game. But every other shot she makes is totally off, and she has no idea why…until she notices the same thing most of the audience probably noticed immediately: Vipère stinks. Not at golf, but literally.

Every time Vipère unzipped the front of her catsuit near Eve, she messed up. Turns out her perfume is a sublt poisons that threw her game off just enough to almost lose. Not about to lose to a cheater with fangs and a way too active tongue, Eve uses her Yellow Bullet to drive her ball out of a bunker and straight into the hole, beating Vipère and fulfilling her favor to Rose and Catherine.

What follows is a lot of plot malarkey, unfortunately. First, Eve has Vipère drive her to the course to meet with Aoi…in Vipère’s slow antique car. Aside from it not being Vipère’s style at all (why is it yellow?) Anri was right there in the parking lot with a Jaguar XJS, which if I know Rose had a V12. Combined with the fact the distance from the underground course to the above-ground one wasn’t revealed until it became a problem, and my eyes were rolling like a Titleist on the green.

Just as Anri manufactured Aoi’s loss and Vipère almost manufactured Eve’s, the the plot tomfoolery ends up manufacturing the first major interpersonal conflict between Aoi and Eve, as Aoi waits as long as she can but has to board her flight before Eve gets there. She leaves her Pac-Man ball on the tee, but drew a tear in its eye and “Liar” on the other side.

As her plane takes off, Aoi spots Eve and her Blue Bullet taking flight. So, I guess the airport is right next to the golf course? What with that crazy golf bunker, I half-expected Eve’s golf ball to go into the jet engine, forcing it to land and giving the two a chance to play.

Of course, there’s a good chance that would have ended in fiery tragedy, so maybe it’s best Eve didn’t hit the plane….I just hope their budding friendship hasn’t been shattered irrevocably. After all, Aoi began the episode with a mistake caused by others; now that Eve was late, the two are even par, as they should be.

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!

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 03 – Just Golf, Baby

Eve doesn’t half-ass anything. When given an audience with Rose’s boss, a higher-up in the Nafrece underworld, she offers up her damn body in exchange for the chance to play in the U15 Tournament. Fortunately, the boss lady rejects that offer, but I am worried about the one she accepts, which Rose brings up without Eve knowing what it is.

Whatever Faustian deal Eve is now tangled up in, all that matters is that she’s able to keep her promise to Aoi to play one round—in this case, the final round of a world tournament. Rose makes sure she looks the part, dressing her in her boss’ brand name attire and giving her a full set of clubs. After a couple episodes in street clothes, it’s great to see Eve all glowed up.

The two other girls in her team unfortunately go through hell, as Rose tells Anri, because Eve is a simple destroyer, concerned only with defeating her one opponent; Aoi, who enters the final round 9 under par. As Rose racks up a -3 in four holes Rose further describes how Eve’s style of golf methodically destroys any opponents in her vicinity, causing them to forget their own styles in a hopeless bid to keep up.

While her group mates are probably going to be feeling the negative aftereffects on their own games for many matches in the future, Aoi is spellbound by Eve’s performance. As the leader, Aoi is in the final group with the latest tee time, but she just can’t wait to get out there and play “in the same air” as Eve, who she can tell is having a blast.

Aoi begins her round knowing Eve’s score, and insists that Amane keep her updated every three holes via hand signals. Amane is fine doing this because 1.) she’ll take whatever motivation for Aoi she can get and 2.) she’s quite certain even Eve can’t hope to beat Aoi. But while Amane knows Aoi’s game like the back of her hand, she’s only seen a little bit of what Eve can do. This time, she sees more, including how accurate she can be even while driving her ball through the same woods where it got lost in her last game with Aoi.

While Eve and Aoi duel, their respective support groups watch; her classmates at the fancy Raiou Girls Academy in Japan (the architecture of which reminds me of a car dealership or auto parts store for some reason), where we meet Haruka, Aoi’s supposed rival in her homeland, and Ichina, who wants to be a caddy for someone like Aoi, not a player, and is training accordingly.

They, like Amane, and even Eve herself, believe it’s a foregone conclusion Aoi will go one point under Eve to take the win on the 18th hole. But on what should be a straightforward birdie putt misses the cup, an error so timely and uncharacteristic it makes me wonder if there’s some kind of chicanery involved. That feeling is amplified watching Rose spreading her arms at the sun like a villain about to cackle.

While I don’t forsee I’ll be the biggest fan of Eve and/or Aoi being pawns to these gangsters, this episode was 99% Eve and Aoi enjoying the absolute goddamn hell out of a match together, and however it ends, they’re going to want to play each other again as soon as possible. After all, until someone shows up who can beat either of them, they’re all they’ve got.

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

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 02 – Sending Good Vibes

It’s sports festival time – the perfect opportunity for Shikimori and Izumi to cheer each other on. Unfortunately, his soccer game and her volleyball match start within ten minutes of each other.

Shikimori is disappointed, but while outwardly a weenie, her bae still has the confidence and earnestness to take her hand and assure her he’ll be cheering for her even if they’re apart, sending good vibes her way through hand contact.

And Izumi’s just as capable of making her blush as vice versa. Last week showed that an imbalanced relationship could be okay; this week shows us that it’s not unbalanced at all, but quite equitable. While catching the first few minutes of his game with Neko and seeing things aren’t going well, Shikimori sends a bit of those vibes back to Izumi.

It seems to work, but only a little bit: the ball ends up right by Izumi’s foot, but he still ends up tripping and missing the kick that was lined up for him, then gets belted in the face by a header. Even though it’s about time for her match to start, Izumi is more important, and Shikimori runs to his aid.

If her good vibes didn’t help Izumi in the soccer department, it ends up helping both of them in the boyfriend-girlfriend department, as they share a beautiful tender scene in the nurse’s office with soft guitar strumming. Shikimori compliments Izumi’s hair—which for the record is legit pretty, as are his eyes.

She also notices a scar on his forehead, and he tells her how he has a lot on his body, not from his dark past as an assassin, but simply due to his famous bad luck (Truck-kun hit his house, for gosh sakes!). Shikimori worries about him and again asks him to stay by her side as mnuch as possible. But before she leaves, he says he can protect her too, which causes her to almost climb under the covers with him.

We later see her bump her head out in the hall, cursing herself for coming on too strong it wasn’t originally a tease, but she passed it off as one. It’s moments like this when it’s just Shikimori and her thoughts that she truly does feel like a real human being—not just a pedestaled ideal of one.

That self-flusteredness appears to affect her volleyball game, at least at first, which can’t happen when Neko says that Kamiya, the volleyball ace is on the other team and giving her A-game. But when Izumi cheers as loud as he can from the upper balcony, Shikimori moves her ponytail from the side to the back and makes a face so cool and serious, everyone in the gym takes notice and swoons.

It’s here where Doga Kobo flexes its animation muscles while continuing to provide an immensely strong Shikimori Face Game. Her spikes and volleys are things of beauty, and there’s no doubt that Shikimori is only playing at this high a level—and wins the match—primarily because Izumi is watching and cheering her on.

She won’t allow herself to let him down, and doesn’t. Even so, I could have totally seen an alternate scenario where her team came up short and she was distraught about failing, and Izumi would tell her the result didn’t matter. Just as she thinks he looks cool trying his best on the soccer pitch, she looks even cooler giving her all, win or lose.

Of course, Shikimori and her team do win (and beat that ace Kamiya, who was putting out strong “Izumi’s childhood friend/betrothed” vibes) and the whole school sees her cool side, once reserved only for Izumi. The next few days are a whirlwind, with hordes of fangirls lining up to shake her hand and get pictures.

Just like his cheers that inspired her to play harder and the potential for him to comfort her if she lost comprise the ways Izumi protects her, he is frustrated that he can’t literally protect her from her sudden and intense celebrity. (I also wanted to mention that when complimenting her Izumi says she “constantly radiates athleticism” and “you’re so cute” in the same breath, because those things aren’t mutually exclusive.)

The by-product of her new school hero status is that she and Izumi are isolated: her on an island and him behind an impenetrable wall of fans. This means her duties protecting him from projectiles and other pratfalls fall to his friend Izunuka.

When Shikimori flashes a look of unfiltered anger at the sight of Izumi helping Izunuka up after he caught a ball to the side of the head, the reasons are twofold: jealousy that Izunuka is protecting her bae instead of her, and anger at herself for not being there for Izumi.

This looks like a potential for a widening rift between the lovebirds, but by episode’s end everything is resolved in a way that is both beautifully presented, emotionally earned, and true to the characters. Izumi is seemingly on his way home alone, lamenting how others know of Shikimori’s cool side. When he inevitably almost falls down the steps, Shikimori catches him from behind and delivers the killer line “Who said you could go home alone?”

When Izumi tells her he didn’t want to get in the way of her newfound celebrity, she leans against the wall morosely and delivers another banger of a line: “You know you’re the only one I want to walk home with.” Izumi admits he wasn’t leaving, but was just going to wait by the front gate for her, since he’s been missing her too the last few days.

Upon hearing this, Shikimori’s face becomes a masterpiece of shifting expressions, one moment on the verge of tears, but with a smirk of relief and jubilation the next. Even if everyone knows Shikimori’s not just a cutie, there are still myriad sides only Izumi will ever see, and no fangirl army in the world can keep these two apart for long.

This spring keeps belting out one awesome rom-com episode after
another. I don’t know what’s going on, but I like it!

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story – 02 – Blue Bullet vs. Blue Blood

Amawashi Aoi is the daughter of two pro golfers and has been raised since she was tiny to be one of the world’s finest. But she’s not the slightest bit conceited or unpleasant as a result of this specialized and very exclusive upbringing. She’s pure, sweet, and very excited to meet someone like Eve.

Aoi wants to play a whole round with Eve, but Amane says there’s only time for one hole, so Aoi picks the toughest: a 400+ yard L-shaped Par-4 with the sea on one side and a thick forest on the other. Eve naturally smashes her ball through the woods but doesn’t quite get all the way through.

Aoi keeps her ball out of the forest by unleashing a majestic slice that turns the corner and leaves her with less than 140 yards on her second shot. Eve gets her ball out of the woods, but misses the green and a clear shot at the hole. Aoi hits a perfect strike that places the ball mere inches from the hole and a sure Eagle.

Amane’s narration of this exciting hole of golf lays it on a little thick that Aoi is the “Innocent Tyrant” whose gleaming smile will effortless crush anyone in her way. And even Eve admits that there’s something about Aoi that threw her ever so slightly off her game. That, and Aoi genuinely can’t take her eyes off Eve’s golf.

As for Eve, well, after years of simply using her talent to put food on the table, this one hole with Aoi is the most fun she’s had playing golf. Not that surprising considering how amazing Aoi is. Despite herself, Eve finds herself both charmed and inspired by Aoi, and absolutely hell-bent on beating her when next they play. And they will play again quite soon.

After easily beating a street scammer’s magnet-ridden putting green, Eve gains an audience with a mid-level figure in the mob, who wields a club like a yakuza would wield a katana. This is where I first realized that Eve is still a kid—closer to Aoi’s age than I thought. This is one reason how she’s able to convince the mobster to get her into the U-15 tournament. Another is that Eve’s heart is aching to face off against Aoi again, and while the mobster will make sure Eve owes her big for the privilege, she’s as eager as I am to see a rematch. 

But Aoi’s heart is aching too. Before meeting Eve, she seemed pretty bored by golf—and considering it’s been her whole life, who can blame her? But when you’re at the top of your game, you seek out others at the top of theirs, especially when they take such a fascinatingly different path to that top. Now that these two have found each other, they both have new fires burning in their chests…and they want nothing more than to stoke them.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 02 – He Can’t Win…He’s Won

The Blue Marble

For its opening salvo, Takagi-san goes part-Charlie Chaplin, part-Looney Tunes, ditching all dialogue for a full orchestra. Takagi’s instrumentation is predominantly flutes and strings, while Nishikata’s is very horn-forward. It’s PERFECT. But what warrants this sudden change in style? Nothing more than a different take on the pair’s routine walk to school, which is more than worthy!

Takagi is feeling playful and decides to tail Nishikata without being spotted. That said, his “Takagi-Meter” goes off multiple times, turning this into a kind of Sly Cooper sneaking game. The music and silent body language kept me utterly enthralled, while the silent version of Nishikata imagining Takagi losing his “guess what I found on the ground” game contrasts perfectly with the reality that she knows it’s a blue marble, leaving him to ponder whether Takagi has ESP.

“You Didn’t Scare Me, Ma’am”

After the three girls have a little silent segment of their own, we return to Takagi and Nishikata on classroom cleaning duty. Takagi mentions that a  desk check is coming up, and suggests they do a dry run together. This means the two playing the roles of teacher and student.

Naturally, Nishikata is nervous despite having no contraband, while Takagi is cool as a cucumber when they switch roles…only revealing after the check that she did have a manga hidden under her gym clothes…the one he lent her. There wasn’t even going to be a desk check; Takagi just wanted to roleplay and return his book in the most adorable way possible!

“Dinosaurs!!”

Fortune continues to smile on these two, giving them multiple chances to be alone together even during school hours. To whit: library duty. Takagi suggests they pass the time by reading books they choose for each other. She saw how excited Nishikata got about a dinosaur picture book, so picks that out for him. No doubt she genuinely likes that cute childish side of his.

Nishikata accepts it despite his embarrassment, because he really does love dinosaurs. He just picked a random novel for Takagi, but it’s precisely because of that she can blurt out “I love you” and immediately pass it off as a line from the book, when it’s actually another confession. It’s the latest in a series of tentative lines Takagi has cast. Fishing is all about patience, and Takagi seems to have plenty…for now.

Takagi Sweat

The concluding segment begins with Takagi and Nishikata again running into each other by chance; the former is on an afternoon jog, the latter running errands. They chat about his informal jogging regimen, and he can’t help but boast that he once made it all the way to the beach one time.

The problem is, he reads Takagi’s reactions as skeptical rather than impressed—precisely how she intends—and the two part. Nishikata was near the end of his jog, but he’s determined to “defeat” Takagi by impressing her for real. So he fights his fatigue and groaning muscles and jogs all the way to the beach, fueled by the future sight of Takagi in genuine awe of his accomplishment.

I fully expected him to make it to the beach only to realize he hadn’t taken his phone with him to snap the all-important evidence. But that would have been too obvious, and the show knew that. Instead, he takes a photo of the sunset on the water, sends it to Takagi, and gets a sweet response back: “The sunset looks so pretty. Thank you.”

Then, in a beautiful piece of both romantic timing and camera framing, Takagi appears behind Nishikata. She raced to the beach on her bike after finishing her errands, because she knew with certainty Nishikata would go there to prove it to her. She hands him a bottle of Pokari Sweat—a reward for his hard work for her sake—and sits beside him on the sand.

Takagi says it was “so worth it” chasing after him so the two of them could watch the sunset together. Hearing this, and seeing Takagi’s face in the dramatic light and her hair gently flowing in the wind, Nishikata’s face turns red as said sunset, unable to accept that Takagi is being dead serious about all of this.

Then they sit in silence, calling back to earlier silent sessions in the episode. It’s established that once Nishikata calms down and quiets his mind, he can relax and simply exist together with Takagi, without any talking or teasing. Nishikata keeps trying to win in stupid ways, but he’s already long since won what truly matters: Takagi’s heart.

I maintain hope that one day—maybe this season—he’ll accept that win for what it is, and dismiss his lingering doubts for what they are: weak and pathetic excuses.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – Sweet Dreams are Made of Tease

My dreams were answered: Master Teaser Takagi-san has returned for a third wonderfully warm, fuzzy season; the perfect balm for the bracing cold of a mid-Atlantic winter. After last season ended with Nishikata taking Takagi’s hand, this newest outing starts with them holding hands almost right away! After sensing she intended to beat him at the grip exercise tool, rather than hand it to him he took her hand instead.

Suddenly, Nishikata and Takagi are transported back to the steps of the shrine on that night. Then Takagi vanishes, and then he finds himself at the pool, with Takagi taking a dip. Then a number of his friends pretend to be Takagi. Then the main couple from their favorite manga/anime transfer to their class, and Takagi falls for the MC. Then Takagi in cowgirl cosplay shoots him with her six-gun. I believe she also appears in cow-full-stop cosplay, complete with moos.

Turns out the show was teasing us; it was all a dream. Nishikata hasn’t even been back to school since his festival date with Takagi; it’s still summer break. For a few moments, Nishikata panics: what if the festival, and with it all the good times he had with Takagi, was a dream too? He sees the robot mask he bought at one of the stalls and breathes a sigh of relief. It’s a welcome moment of honesty for Nishikata: He doesn’t want that night to be a dream. It happened, and he’s glad it did.

In the next segment, it’s the last day before school re-opens. Nishikata shows off the tan he got from going to the beach, remembering too late that his back was sunburnt and that Takagi would be quick to pat said back if she found out. Not only does she find out instantly, but challenges Nishikata to a guessing game: if he can tell her the reason she asked him to join her today, he wins. For each incorrect guess, he gets a pat on the back.

Nishikata eventually guesses that it was just so Takagi could tease him, but he’s only half-right. She gives him a telling hint: they’ve already been doing what she wanted to do. Even a simpleton like Nishikata can put two and two together: she just wanted to see him. But the challenge is to say the reason, and Nishikata is just too gosh-darn bashful to say it out loud, even if he’s secretly quite happy about it!

After an interstitial involving the trio of girls (who also got tanned and contemplate being three wrinkly grannies together due to the skin damage), the third segment announces itself as the first day of the new semester…yet both Nishikata and Takagi’s tans are gone, which I found odd. What isn’t odd is that Takagi is able to deduce that Nishikata wanted to spook her with a new dino-themed jack-in-the-box he meticulously hand-crafted rather than doing his summer homework.

When she finally opens it, she lets out a little yelp of surprise, thus handing Nishikata one of his only true wins against her! Then the two are transported onto a beach full of fireworks, and then to those same shrine stairs Nishikata dreamed of. Takagi holds out her hand, and as Nishikata reaches out to take it, they’re once more transported to a grove of cherry trees. Then Nishikata seemingly confesses to Takagi…and then she wakes up in her bed.

She throws open her window and basks in the morning sun and summer breeze, happy Nishikata said what he said in her dream, but also hopeful he’ll someday say it to her for real. I may have dreamed for a third season of the sweetest romance committed to television; little did I know dreams would play such a large role in the premiere.

Takagi and Nishikata are well and truly in each other’s heads, but I’m looking even more forward to watching their tender love continue to grow in the waking world in this season to come.

My Senpai is Annoying – 10 – Buns, Basketball, and Baths

The most inscrutable character in Senpai has to be the eccentric, mischievous Tsukishiro Mona. She’s such a mystery I kinda want a segment that explains her more, though like the alien in Alien (or the Cylons in Battlestar) perhaps the less known, the better. All we know is, she can get away with grabbing a dieting Sakurai without fear of HR reprimand, inadvertently shoving Sakurai chest-first into Kazama, an innocent bystander.

The next segment threw me off a bit because Takeda seemed not to recognize Tsukishiro outside of work. Turns out she loves pork buns, and accepts his challenge in an eating contest at his favorite hole-in-the-wall eatery. It also turns out she’s only ever eaten them cold, so not long after biting into one of those steaming beauties, she resigns. When the two talk about it at work, Futaba is left out and feels a little jealous, but Takeda can read her like a book and offers to take her out for more buns.

Kazama is proving quite the catch for Sakurai as it’s revealed he was once quite the basketballer, and so makes the perfect tutor for her brother Yuuto. She arranges to watch the two practice and even makes a lunch, but doesn’t count on Natsumi, Takeda, and Futaba showing up, resulting in a game of Horse that merely turns into a two-hour-long duel between the two basketball aces of the group: Kazama and Natsumi.

Making it clear that she didn’t get to spend as much time alone with Kazama as she wanted, Sakurai orders an end to the contest. Reading the room, Natsumi departs for the bathhouse with Yuuto (whom she’s taken under her wing as a protégé), Takeda, and a sleeping Futaba. That frees Sakurai and Kazama to have an adorable little private dinner of vending machine hot dogs. Honestly these two could read the phone book together and it would be lovely to behold.

In the meantime, Natsumi remarks on the fact that Futaba hasn’t really grown much since middle school (though isn’t trying to be mean about it), while Yuuto gets some seemingly valuable tips from Takeda on getting bigger (eat a lot, rest a lot), only to learn that Futaba does all the things Takeda recommended to him, and yet remains wee. But as Takeda says quite correctly, she’s fine the way she is!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 10 – DADDIN’ UP

Once aboard the heavily armed Bureau submarine, Yuri and Zack’s criminal records are expunged with a swipe of Merooro’s iPad, and he leads the quartet to a briefing room for a briefing. It’s an infodump that both explains and justifies the existence of the Bureau of Regulation as an entity tasked with humanity’s survival, and casts Shibito as a chaotic cabal terrorists intent on “saving” the world by destroying it.

As Merooro continues the tour, he reveals the the ship doubles as an ark for plants and animals displaced by the effects of the current “great disaster” that threatens the Labyrinth—and is indeed a greater threat than Shibito. Memenpu is impressed, and Gagumber doesn’t like how much she gets along with the “smug dandy,” whom he later learns has a wife and kid of his own, but his duties as a Regulator keep them apart.

When Memenpu half-jokingly says she wishes Merooro’d been her dad instead, Gagumber goes topside to drink a 12-pack of brewskis and sulk. Then Shubito very suddenly attacks just when Memenpu is on her own retrieving her stuffed goat Tony. Her isolation is perfectly timed with the arrival of the masked Muro, who last week resolved to kill Memenpu, whom she refers to as a “rainbow child”. Gagumber is still moping and almost leaves Memenpu to Merooro to save, but Zack says he’d better dad the fuck up or he really will lose her.

Gagumber is in time to stop Muro from killing Memenpu on the spot, but not before Muro’s boss arrives in a bot. Muro, who loses her mask and is revealed to be a young girl, incapacitates Gagumber long enough to grab Memenpu and hitch a ride on her boss’ bot. Fortunately, Merooro gets topside fast enough to delay Muro long enough for Gagumber to regroup in his bot.

A bot-on-bot battle ensues until there’s another cave-in and a Kaiju arrives, which Muro and her Boss use as cover to withdraw for now. The boss is confident they’ll get Memenpu “next time”. This leaves Gagumber and the Bureau to deal with the Kaiju, who almost stomps on Memenpu (girl just can’t stay out of mortal danger).

She’s shoved aside by Merooro, who gets seriously injured in the process, but not mortally so. As the ship dives to escape the Kaiju and Merooro is rushed to the infirmary, Gagumber holds his hand. He still hates the smug dandy’s guts, but hates those who’d hurt Memenpu a whole lot more, and is grateful Merooro, a fellow dad, saved his girl when he couldn’t. In short, Gagumber grows a little…even if he’s still mostly a big idiot.

As for why she loves Tony so much, as Merooro tells him before he heads off to find her, Tony is her “precious treasure” simply because Gagumber bought it as a birthday gift. He never really had any reason to worry about Merooro “stealing” his status as dad, as long as he actually dadded up when the time came, which he most assuredly did.

That included taking one horse-kick of a punch from Muro, both the origins and motivations of which remain a mystery, but hopefully not for long. After all, why unmask an antagonist if you’re not going to eventually let us know more about her?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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