Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 07 – Spilling Tea for Art’s Sake

Tsubame’s unyielding passion to capture the motion of the world around her through drawing started when she was in grade school, watching her grandma toss tea into the yard with a precise, practiced motion. The action fascinated her, and she yearned to master it herself so she could capture it in all its glory.

When she ended up in classes on how to stand, sit, and walk in preparation for her modeling career, Tsubame voraciously jotted down all the various motions, even discerning a better way for her infirm grandma to move and walk more comfortably. She carries that passion on in every frame of animation she’s drawing for this robot anime.

She does this in defiance of her mother’s insistence she not get involved in animation, but also in lieu of getting the proper amount of sleep or paying sufficient attention in class. Yet even if she’s sleep-deprived and her grades start to slip, there’s no alternative. Tsubame is gradually learning not to be a total perfectionist, but she’s never going to give anything less than 110% effort.

With Doumeki on board, the trio now have someone with far more audio know-how than the rest of them combined, but that just means she’s able to describe in precise demoralizing detail all of the challenges they face and the consequences of not properly harmonizing visuals and sound.

Meanwhile, Midori is presented artwork that the artists believe was following her instructions, but which she worries will fundamentally change the film they’re making. The artists need to be more flexible, but she needs to be more precise in her direction.

While I’m sure Sayaka considers it another strictly-business opportunity to give her talent a much-needed break, and it is their bathhouse visit after school is closed due to rain turns out to be a nice bonding experience. There’s a familial intimacy to bathing together that the team previously lacked.

It’s also fun to watch Midori dutifully call her very nice parents to let her know where she is and what she’s doing with whom, as well as the very rich Tsubame marveling at every aspect of the bathhouse experience, as well as insisting Sayaka douses Midori over and over so she can watch the motion of the water —much like she asked her granny to keep tossing tea.

The three then dine on crawfish after catching their fair share themselves (though they can’t eat the same fish they caught, as they must be purged of mud first, Midori points out), and Midori and Tsubame whip out their sketchbooks to capture their dinner in all its crustacean glory. Few moments of these young women’s lives seem to ever pass without them capturing it with pen or pencil on paper.

When the rain subsides, they return to their studio, and Tsubame gradually becomes frustrated with her animation of a chainsaw. After discussing possible remedies with Midori, the two bring in Sayaka, who thinks its fine and that they should watch it with sound. Sure enough, it makes more than enough impact for the quick cut…but Tsubame isn’t quite satisfied.

Both Midori and Tsubame consider anime to be the best way to appreciate movement, more so than even live action film, and that comes down to intent. The imagination, passion and effort of a great animator comes out in every frame of their work, lending it greater impact than a mere directed and photographed live-action actor.

Tsubame isn’t looking to “make people smile” with her anime. She wants to be able to wow people like her, who can’t help but spot every potential flaw or revelation; notice every triumph or defeat. By being her own harshest, uncompromising critic, an artiste like Tsubame could potentially problems for a production on a shoestring budget and tight deadline.

But doggone it, the eventual visual rewards of letting her go wild are well worth the pain. It’s why Sayaka is almost always irritated and annoyed, but she’ll gladly bear those emotions if it results in an exceptional—and profitable—final product. When you successfully harness the chaotic energy of special talents and personalities, great things can happen. And like a rocket taking off, the sky’s the limit.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 06 – No Groaning, Moaning, or Excuses

The Eizoken has 96 days to produce a 15-20 minute anime about a robot fighting a crabtle, and its members must contend with a nearly infinitely more complex production. More action scenes, more sound effects, more backgrounds, more of everything they already did with Machete Girl, only they’ll also need more classically epic music and voice actors for dialogue.

Kanamori Sayaka, the ever-steady executive producer, keeps the ship on course in these early stages, knowing when to crack the whip and when to show kindness and generosity…or at least that last bit would have been the case if she’d actually treated the artists to ramen. That said, never carrying more than 1,000 yen at all times is an elegant, effective means of budgeting!

She can forsee that this production could easily drain their finances, and the student council is keeping a watchful eye, so Sayaka decides to play ball, acting both as council enforcer and interested party with the delinquent Sound Club.

She gives its only member Doumeki an offer she can’t refuse, offering protection in exchange for access to her ridiculously vast collection of sounds, plus her own expertise as audio advisor. Doumeki is also compelled to sell much of the collection for club funds, and Sayaka and the Eizouken will get a cut of that.

Sayaka can’t do it all, however. She can only create a stable enough environment in which Midori and Tsubame can work. But there’s more work than the two of them will ever be able to complete in time, so they need to delegate some of the work to a willing art club (who like the robot club were impressed by Machete Girl).

In their first meeting with the art club, Midori constantly needs help from both Sayaka and one of the club’s members to get out what she’s trying to say. She’s simply not good at telling people what to do, but if she doesn’t, there’s no giant robot anime.

While recharging her depleted brain with some late afternoon sketching, Midori falls down a well of self-doubt, worried there’s no way she can make a robot anime that will satisfy everyone. Sayaka delivers the tough love speech she Midori in her moment of vulnerability. It’s not about satisfying everyone, but making a final product on time that she can be satisfied with and proud of.

As evidenced from their reaction to Machete Girl, Midori and Tsubame are their own most exacting critics, so it sounds counterproductive to tell her to trust in her own sensibilities. But Midori is eventually able to reconcile some of the inconsistencies (or as Tsubame calls them, “crimes” committed in order to field a giant robot anime), and regains her motivation.

Hands Off the Eizouken! has beautiful, terrifically imaginative art and a wonderfully novel way of visualizing its artists’ creations, but besides all that one shouldn’t overlook its devotion to what makes a good anime: characters you care about overcoming obstacles internal and external to achieve something great.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 05 – Blue-Collar Giant Robot

The newly-validated Eizouken could be forgiven for taking it easy in the shadow of their triumph. They worked their butts off with very little sleep, and it’s never mentioned how badly it affected either their academic studies or Tsubame’s modeling schedule. However, Sayaka puts them right back on track for their next project, which will be bigger and more ambitious.

She’s secured a commission from the school’s robot club to create a giant robot anime, a key promotion for both clubs to be presented as the centerpiece of the upcoming cultural festival. During their initial meet-and-greet, Midori’s imagination gets the best of her, as she finds herself in the middle of a drama involving dark, secret facilities and brainwashed friends.

Never ones to stare at blank paper, the girls explore the sprawling underground network beneath the school, where the setting takes on a distinct Girls Last Tour look and feel, in order to stimulate and feed their imaginations. The trip is a fruitful one, as Midori and Tsubame work out the concept of a crab/turtle hybrid with a heat attack and shockwave-creating claw as the robot’s opponent.

Midori is the scaredy-cat of the group, but also the most cautious and prepared for contingencies. Sayaka and Tsubame would have been SOL had their friend not brought rope and a shovel when the three fall into a pit. Meanwhile the show’s real-life setting continues to amaze with its whimsical complexity.

The next step is ostensibly where Sayaka will shine: the negotiations that lead to the official start of the project. However, in this case she’s unable to secure any blackmail bait for negotiation purposes, and one of the robot club’s members is both passionate and obstinate in his vision.

His problem is that while he knows what he wants, he can’t visualize it, so he was liable to reject anything that deviated from that impossible ideal. Sayaka is bailed out from this ordeal when Tsubame and Midori relate to the stubborn member as comrades in frustration with the mundaneness of the world, its lack of real giant robots, spaceships, and hadokens.

With that obstacle removed, the girls collaborate with the robot club members in brainstorming a direction for the design of the robot and its weaponry, which will include a chainsaw, pile driver and metal drill (not wood!). All of its camera and sensor functions are streamlined into a sleek retro-style head.

This marks the first time others have borne witnesses to Midori and Tsubame’s visualized flights of fancy, but the extra input results in a complex final model that Sayaka is worried will be a bitch to animate. Even so, with official standing, additional resources, and a more realistic timeline, I don’t doubt Tsubame and Midori can pull it off, and it will be loads of fun to watch!

 

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 04 – The Advantage of High Standards

With only a month to go until the budget committee, we open on an Eizouken in crisis. For all the work Midori and Tsubame have done, they only have a few seconds of finished work to show for it. Midori can get los in her detailed worlds, while Tsubame is a proud perfectionist. Sayaka knows they’re dead in the water at such a slow pace, which means corners have to be cut somewhere.

That said, Midori and Tsubame wouldn’t bother making an anime, no matter how short or shallow, without showing off the skills they’ve amassed. Sayaka must always walk the delicate line between keeping the girls on schedule and not crushing their dreams. The three exhibit the flexibility needed in such a venture to agree to compromises they can all live with.

Yet even with a good final product (and the episode is coy about how much progress they make in realizing their vision), the Eizouken is up against a circus-like atmosphere the day of the committee, and a hostile student council intent on suspending their activities before they even have a chance to show their work. When Sayaka’s lawyering scares the adults but not the StuCo, Midori insists they at least see what they’ve been working on.

Then their anime plays out more or less in real time, and the animation, while simple and rough, is so dynamic that everyone in the auditorium reacts like they’ve been flung in the middle of the kinetic battle between the Machete Girl and her tank nemesis. Everyone in attendance is bowled over…except for our perfectionist creators, constantly critiquing the work and coming up with improvements for the future.

Having witnessed just how much the Eizouken can accomplish without a budget or a fair deadline, the StuCo has no choice but to see what they are capable of with both. That could possibly backfire—having backs against the wall is a common motivator—but I doubt it.

The enthusiastic fires in Midori and Tsubame have never burned brighter than at the end of their presentation, and Sayaka seems pleased that other outsiders saw what she saw in these two: they’re special, and they are capable of great things no matter the conditions.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 03 – Gas Mask Girl vs. Personal Defense Tank

The accident video turns out not to have any adverse consequences (for now) but did net the Film Club 30,000 yen, most of which was spent on repairs. It’s a good thing Sayaka is around to keep the wild-eyed dreamer and the rich girl in line, monetarily speaking.

While Midori and Tsubame are easily distracted by a butterfly or tanuki, Sayaka makes sure they take this seriously, because the school will only promote a serious association to full club status. First order of business is repairing the roof, a task the animators visualize as EVA on a spaceship.

Once they’ve had a meal and a discussion on what’s physically possible in the 55 days they have until the budget discretionary hearing, the trio take the train to Midori’s place. Most of the ads happen to feature Tsubame, attracting a couple of fans and reminding us of her notoriety.

One also imagines she’ll likely have a modeling job or two during those 55 days. When it’s clear that a 3600-frame 5-minute animated short will be too much work for the two of them, they shorten it to three minutes.

Once at Midori’s modest apartment (with its neat checkered carpet), the brainstorming commences. Midori has books full of cool concepts, and they settle on one that’s relatively simple, as most of the structures are cubes. More elaborate environments can wait until they’re on sturdier organizational and financial ground.

Watching Midori and Tsubame bounce off each other and create worlds before our eyes is never not thrilling, but it’s also rewarding to see how the enterprising Sayaka reacts to their “creative rampages,” by finding a way to combine the two artists’ disparate visions.

Sayaka exhibits emotional intelligence by ensuring neither of the animators are discouraged to the point of adversely affecting their enthusiasm and productivity. She’s also pretty sure they can save money on paper by simply buying a hole punch!

By episodes end, the broad strokes of the short have been hammered out. Tsubame’s efforts will center on a high school girl in a gas mask (to limit the need to draw full facial expressions) armed with a machete, who battles an adorable “Personal Defense Tank” designed by Midori in a low-gravity environment.

If what they end up animating looks anything like the concept story-boarding they made in their minds, they should be on a one-way-street to acknowledgement as a full film club. But that’s a big if, and there’s still the possibilty of butting heads with budget adjudicators who aren’t okay with the concept of a second anime-related club, or simply aren’t into animation.

In the battle to come, Midori, Sayaka, and Tsubame are Gas Mask Girl, while the school is the tank. Somehow, they must find a way to prevail.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 11 – Twitter, Ramen, And Missed Connections

This week’s collection of stories vary wildly in tone from ludicrous to serious to unabashedly earnest and poignant—and that’s all fine, since it depicts the reality of high school life, it’s highs, lows, and MEHs. First, due to their stubborn refusal to make the first move, both Kaguya and Miyuki are letting the sand pour away in the hourglass of summer without meeting up.

When Kaguya learns Hayasaka is following Miyuki on Twitter, she decides to sign up to mitigate her loneliness. Her appalling lack of IT skills (beyond speed typing) mean poor Hayasaka’s much-needed replenishing bath is being constantly interrupted by Kaguya panicked cries for assistance. In the end, Kaguya runs into the same issue as texting or calling: she has to make the first move to follow Miyuki (garnering her mental image of Miyuki saing “how cute” for once).

Alas, she’s unable to do so and risk breaking the stalemate. She and Miyuki might describe the importance of to winning the “war of love” and preserving their pride through inaction, but the “war” is Pyrrhic, and their pride only a thin facade barely concealing their fear. Hayasaka muses at how happy they’d be if they simply acted on their obvious mutual feelings, and is envious of the depth of those feelings.

Part Two is from the POV of a “ramen connoisseur” who treats the acts of ordering, seasoning, and eating ramen as a kind of war all its own. When Chika enters the same shop, he assumes she’s lost, but all of her actions suggest a fellow connoisseur, one of “his people.”

Even when she seemingly makes missteps that detract from his respect for her, she surprises both him and the chef with increasingly choice moves, from choosing super-firm noodles that will withstand the “mini-ramen” method, crushing garlic into the broth, and even draining the bowl like a boss, something that makes the aging dude recall his youth when sodium intake was of no concern.

Chika is adorable and awesome throughout the segment in which she attains an easy victory, living her best summer life while her president and vice-president wallow in their dark rooms. One day it finally becomes too much, and both of them don their uniforms and go to school in hopes of possibly meeting the other there.

They both have the right idea, but the wrong timing, as Kaguya has already departed the office by the time a winded Miyuki gets there by bike. The ennui and melancholy so very palpable in this gorgeous third segment that takes its time, and in which no one wins. The solution to seeing each other (something both want very badly) is to simply shoot a quick text to each other, but because neither can do that, they fail to meet. The pointless war continues.

Post-credits we get a surprise fourth-segment, narrated entirely by Kaguya in monologue. She describes all of the things that have kept her, the privileged daughter of a very wealthy man, from living a normal girl’s life and experiencing the simple things people like Chika take for granted.

The segment makes no attempt to hide Kaguya’s ornate, grandiose lifestyle, but also never fails to make us sympathize with her. The lack of warmth, love, or even the sharing of a damn room with her father, who summoned her to the main house for a two-second exchange, causing her to abandon shopping plans with Chika, her sister, and Kei, is particularly devastating, as is Hayasaka’s holding of her hand for emotional support.

The segment thankfully ends on a triumphant note: no longer will Kaguya have to settle for the view of distant lights from her giant, lonely bedroom window; she’s going to the festival to see them up close, with people she cares about and who care about her in return. Maybe, just maybe, an armistice in the war of love can be reached…

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 10 – Recovering From Fevergate

Splashed across a tabloid spread, “the sleepover incident” has created fresh and lingering tension between Kaguya and Miyuki, which should go without saying: it was a major step forward, even if it was utterly innocent. Still, neither is prepared to admit the incident for what it was, or their frustration with how it turned out, resulting in heightened passive aggression.

Things boil over when there’s only one slice of cake left (Yuu ate the second), leading to an epic, hour-long battle of wills with the two insisting the other eat it, even bringing up memories that make each of them have to turn away and blush about. The eventually come around to feeding each other simultaneously, but before they can do so Chika comes in to break it up, eat both bites, leading to a loss for both of them.

In the next segment, Kaguya seeks advice from Kashiwagi, while Miyuki goes to Yuu for advice on how to resolve the issue “for a friend.” Both tell their sides of the story, and each of their confidants is outraged by the injustice, leading to both Kaguya and Miyuki qualifying those events with other factors.

By the end of it, both Kashiwagi and Yuu agree (albeit quite independently) that if nothing happened and they both properly apologized, there is nothing left to be angry about. Of course, neither knows that the reason Kaguya is upset is that Miyuki didn’t even try to lay a finger on her.

Miyuki confronts her in the hall and says that he actually, did, but it was only one finger on her lips. Sufficiently satisfied (not to mention elated beyond belief), Kaguya returns the favor by touching his lips with her finger, making them even. This is how despite starting out in a state of tug-of-cake-carnage, both come out winners.

Now fully made up and back to normal, the term ends and Summer Vacation is about to begin. Both Kaguya and Miyuki are relying on Chika to use as a co-ed conduit to hanging out with each other without exposing how they feel (even though, if they’re honest, they already did that with the lip-touching).

Unfortunately for them, and as Kaguya quietly predicted, attempting to control Chika into getting your way is a lot tougher than you’d think. She’s off to Hawaii for a week in the Summer, and thus won’t have time for any other trip of that length, so she’s pretty much out. That’s when Yuu chimes in, wanting to make memories with his senpai.

That gives Miyuki an opening to suggest the end-of-Summer fireworks festival, which all four agree upon (Chika and Kaguya with particular enthusiasm). The only problem is, the August 24 date doesn’t work for Chika, who’ll be at a “tomato festival in Spain.”

No matter—Kaguya and Miyuki are committed to not wasting the vacation without ever hanging out with each other, and now they’ve found a new willing, and more malleable co-ed conduit to do so in Yuu. Could such a scenario provide the necessary conditions for either of them to move past feverish bed-sharing and coy lip-touching? We will see…

Zombieland Saga – 07 – A Truly Shocking Performance

(Apologies for the horrible pun that titles this post.—Ed.) Last week’s episode proved ZLS is far more than just a venue for Miyano Mamoru’s manic voice performances or a showcase for idol-dancing CGI. It can also do serious character drama. How would it resolve the generational rift between Franchouchou’s dual aces?

With Junko unwilling/unable to continue in this new and scary idoling world and holed up in one of the mansion’s many rooms, Ai commits to doing Junko’s part as the days to Saga Rock count down, even as the strain causes her head and limbs literally fall off (kudos to the foley artists for appropriately gross sound effects as the zombies move about).

Even Lily admits there may be nothing any of them can to to convince Ai to come back. Sakura asks Tatsumi for help, but he shouts her away. Even so, Tatsumi later breaks down the barricade Junko had built over the door and, surprisingly enough, provides the sober voice of reason. He acknowledges Junko’s fear of how things have changed in the last thirty years, but assures her the calling of idol is no less noble than it was in her time.

He also suggests something Junko didn’t consider a possibility: that if she doesn’t want to get so close to her fans…that she just shouldn’t. She can still sing and dance with the others while continuing to carry the Showa flag and live the life she’s most comfortable with.

He also reminds Junko that she’s not the only one with fears as a result of waking up a zombie in a strange time and place. He informs her how Ai died, and the weather forecast for the festival, and how Ai is going forward to face her fears. Considering she’s already dead, what harm would it do Junko to give this idol thing one last try?

With that, Tatsumi leaves Junko with her outfit for tomorrow’s festival…and a casual order to fix the door he busted (hey, this is still a comedy first and foremost). The next morning everyone waits as long as they can, but then pack into the van without Junko.

Just as they start off, Junko heroically leaps over the mansion gate lands in front of the van…which absolutely pummels her, in such a similar fashion to Sakura’s own demise it sparks a vague memory for her. Like a zombie horror movie, Ai slowly gets up…but not to eat brains; to join her fellow members of Franchouchou, all of whom but Ai run to embrace her.

Still, Ai decides to bury the hatchet as the group prepares for their show, promising Junko she’ll have her back. Tatsumi liberally sprays shoe waterproofing all over the girls so their makeup won’t melt in the coming rains.

The others join Ai as she watches her old group Iron Frill knock it out of the park (without anyone getting roasted by lightning). Why the more popular band would open for unknowns like Franchouchou, I have no idea, but that plot contrivance is only one of a long chain of them that, IMO, somewhat mar the group’s biggest moment yet.

While Iron Frill’s dancing and singing was 2D animation, the show breaks back out the smoother-moving but still far creepier CGI models of the Franchouchou members. I remain mostly unconvinced this was the best way to animate them performing, as it really pulls you out of the otherwise 2D world of the show.

Technical aspects aside, I liked how the storms made Ai so frightened she couldn’t sing properly, threatening to make their big break a disaster right from the start (the rain also forces much of Iron Frill’s crowd to flee, combined with the fact they don’t know who Franchouchou is). I liked Junko having Ai’s back even better, especially when Ai said she’d have hers. Junko may have nerves too, but they don’t relate to performing in a thunderstorm.

The idols regroup and finish out their first song strong, but the entire stage is suddenly destroyed by lightning, making real Ai’s worst nightmare: a repeat of the events that killed her. However, due to them already being dead and zombies (and perhaps the thick coats of spray Tatsumi applied), their exposure to lightning only makes them glow, and makes their voices distorted.

The group proceeds to perform their last song in “autotune” remix mode, their bodies providing the only light on the stage, and occasionally shooting lightning beams out of their fingers. This sequence of events represents a new level of preposterous-ness for the show.

While a show about zombie idols already demands one to suspend disbelief about quite a number of things, the piling on of absurd events culminating in glowing idols shooting lasers while singing autotune…was just a bit much.

The attitude that created this sequence seems to be: “So we carefully crafted a nuanced character conflict between Junko and AI rooted in generational differences…but SCREW ALL THATAnything goes when they take the stage; nothing has to make sense!” Never mind the fact that there were zero consequences for Junko not practicing with the group for weeks. I know she’s one of the best from her time, but no one’s that good!

All that criticism aside, the festival, ridiculous as it was, had the intended effect of getting Franchouchou much-needed publicity, as news of their “illuminating” performance at Saga Rock ends up published in a magazine. We’ll see how that translates into cash to fund their operation, but more importantly how it heightens their statute in the idol world, and how they’ll respond to that increased fame.

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 06 – Rainy Days are The Worst. Rainy Days are The Best.

After a cold open involving Hirotaka and Kabakura being photographed doing BL roleplay, we rewind to Narumi and Hirotaka both forgetting their umbrellas, despite being adults. Kabakura isn’t worried about any of his effects getting wet, so lends them his umbrella.

Hirotaka switches both the side he’s on (so she doesn’t get splashed by cars) and the position of his bag so smoothly, Narumi takes note of it in her inner monologue, and it’s further evidence he’s legit boyfriend material. Meanwhile a soaking wet Kabakura encounters Koyanagi and asks if she’ll share her umbrella, and rather than say he gave his to their friends, he says he forgot it, and gets doted on by a concerned Koyanagi.

For her part, Koyanagi professes her hatred for rainy days because her shoes get wet, but when she invites herself to Kabakura’s for dinner and he invites her to spend the night, she professes her love for rainy days. So basically, she and rain are like Asuka and Shinji.

Then we see why Hirotaka and Kabakura were posing like would-be lovers: to cheer up Narumi. Hirotaka can sense something’s up, but Narumi is being all coy with false smiles and “it’s nothing really, don’t worry about it.”

Finally, Hirotaka waits for her after work and continues to pursue the issue, going so far as to ask if he’s “so undependable” she can’t tell him what’s up. Finally, she relents, and it turns out to be nothing; a character in a manga she (and Kabakura) liked died.

If it were something genuinely troubling, would Narumi have told him? I like to think so, but even not, sometimes it pays to be persistent when someone is trying to spare you trouble or worry…and in this case, Hirotaka already was worried.

Finally, Christmas approaches. There’s talk of Santa and when Narumi, Hirotaka, and Naoya stopped believing in him. Nao, in a thin and much-less-warm-than-it-looks Santa costume handing out free coffee outside Starbucks, states that he never stopped believing in Santa; his definition of who it was simply shifted to anyone you love or are connected with who makes you happy. Narumi praises Nao as a saint.

Last year’s Christmas was The Worst for Koyanagi. Sure, she had plenty of time to make a wicked awesome costume, but the reason she had that time is that Kabakura spent the holiday working his ass off, and they didn’t even speak to each other until the new year had some.

This year Koyanagi assumes it will be more of the same, and that she simply has to make peace with the fact her boyfriend is a workaholic. But as office elevator doors close, Kabakura suddenly teleports from his desk to the doors, forcing them open and joining Koyanagi.

He ends up taking her to a super fancy and exclusive restaurant, the reservations for which he made over a half-year ago, and the cost of which he worked extra hours to afford. Koyanagi, appreciative of his efforts, presents him with the gift of a limited-edition event item.

Hirotaka and Narumi stay in for Christmas Eve, eating takeout, drinking beer and wine, and playing video games together. Both couples look like they’re having nice Christmases.

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 05 – He’s with Me, and She’s with Him

Hirotaka and Narumi are not kids anymore, and the former is far removed from his “bad boy” days when he thought getting an earring and acting like an adult would help him become one quicker. In hindsight, he wondered what his past self’s big rush was; he’d much rather stay a kid. Being surrounded by games and toys from childhood certainly helps.

That philosophy works against Hirotaka the adult when he stays up playing games all night on a weekday, making him a virtual corpse at the office. It’s a downside, but at the end of the day a small price to pay for You Doing You.

Still, an unconscious Hirotaka is hardly interesting, so Narumi heads to the Starbucks for a grotesquely elaborate frappé she orders entirely in English, and the barista is a super cute! Not only that, they soon realize they actually know each other.

Kabakura and Koyanagi are also there. Kabakura, who’s always carried a torch for Narumi, is stunned by Koyanagi’s assertion that the blond kid is likely an exe. But while Koyanagi tries to take the high road and stay out of it, her and Kabakura start feeding off each other with increasingly hypothetical theories.

Then Koyanagi texts Hirotaka to come, and she and Kabakura learn the truth is somewhat more mundane: the blond kid, Naoya, is Hirotaka’s 19-year-old little brother.

Naoya asks to stay at Hirotaka’s (it’s closer to his college), and Narumi extends the invitation to the whole gang. Soon, the core quartet has dropped its guard and starts talking about obscure things Naoya doesn’t quite understand because he’s a normie.

That normie-ness is borne out by an evening of complete gaming ineptitude (while Hirotaka, ever the big brother, simply plays as though Nao isn’t his partner and wins anyway, before passing out again).

When the time comes for everyone to head home, Nao offers to walk Narumi to the station, and Kabakura springs to attention, warning him she already has a girlfriend. Even I slightly suspected that Nao was using a pure-and-innocent act as a front for his playboy-ness, especially when he acted dumb about what he was doing.

However, after Koyanagi leans in to kiss Kabakura and explains the relationships in the room, Nao demonstrates he really is that pure and innocent. He breaks into tears not because he’s lost Narumi to his brother, but because he’s so happy his brother has somebody, and always hoped that somebody would be Narumi.

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 04 – Love Could Be Labeled “Poison” and We’d Drink It Anyway

I’m of the mind you’re never too old to cry at anime. I speak from experience! WotaKoi hasn’t made me cry yet, but it does agree with me on this point, as Narumi demonstrates to Hirotaka with a lunchtime screening of Sailor Moon.

It also tells some truths about people who are very into things being drawn to each other, even if they aren’t super-into the same things. That’s certainly the case with our two couples, but it doesn’t change the fact that their partners are constantly surprising one another with how their differing tastes and desires mesh—or clash—with their own.

Hirotaka happily goes along with Narumi’s desire to have him cosplay as a woman for a photoshoot, and the execution is successful enough to fool Kabakura. But Kabakura doesn’t go along with Koyanagi at all, and even if they get along part of the time, they never seem to waste an opportunity to fight with one another…which isn’t always entertaining for bystanders!

Ultimately Koyanagi gets what she wants by bribing him with a rare figurine he’s really into. As we saw last week with the two at Hirotaka’s house, they are capable of showing great sweetness and tenderness to each other, but Kabakura’s embarrassment with certain aspects of their relationship can lead him to lash out, and Koyanagi gives as good as she gets.

In another example of differing styles, Narumi responds with Hirotaka’s incredibly colorful and verbose text communication with a simple, samurai-esque “at your pleasure.” Both Koyanagi and we learn that the two have always communicated this way, and that Hirotaka’s face can’t keep up with his words or moods, resulting in his usual stoic face.

The purpose of his text(s) was to invite Narumi out for drinks, and since Kabakura is also coming, she should invite Koyanagi too. The four revel in going out for drinks for the first time, but Koyanagi proves to be a quick and volatile drunk, and while he seems able to hold his liquor better, Kabakura proves no less volatile.

Narumi and Hirotaka try and fail to keep the two from blowing up, until a botched making-up session results in Koyanagi storming out. Narumi catches up to her, and she’s sobbing real tears.

The booze brought out her most vulnerable and insecure side; the side that worries that Kabakura acts the way he does because he’s not happy with her; that theirs is a relationship of convenience because they’re both otaku; that he’d rather be with a cute girl like Macross F’s Ranka Lee.

Kabakura is hella mean throughout the night (must he keep calling the clearly attractive Koyanagi an “ugly hag”? He does not.), and his joking around and blithe insults come across as callous and cruel considering Koyanagi’s worried state. But at least he has the good sense to stop—eventually—and let her cry on his shoulder.

The things drunk Koyanagi talked about lead Narumi herself to wonder if Hirotaka would rather be with a non-otaku. Hirotaka can sense her unease, but makes it clear to her he’s not dating her because she’s an otaku or because it’s easy, but because he loves seeing her do the things she likes, and always has, even if they’re not always the same things he likes.

The fact this episode featured not one but two incidences of the women being worried about whether they’re good enough for the men made it feel a bit unbalanced. Then again, I can totally buy that Kabakura acts the way he does sometimes because he’s just as anxious about his self-worth as Koyanagi apparently is.

In any case, I’m really enjoying watching the intricacies of the two couples’ relationships unfold before us. One has been an official couple for far longer, but both have history and just feel right…warts and all.

My Girlfriend Is ShoBitch – 03

Honestly, one of the worst things about ShoBitch is its title: it should actually be called Watashi no Kanojo wa Totemo Iidesu. (ほんとに私の彼女はとてもいいです。or My Girlfriend is Really Nice). Because Akiho is not a bitch! She just goes way beyond what is decent in normal daily conversation when it comes to analyzing her boyfriend’s sexual preferences.

Now we learn the reason she is the way she is: her mother Fuyumi gave her this “education.” Haruka learns this rather quickly upon meeting Akiho’s mom, while Akiho’s dad is essentially…Haruka, grown up. You can kinda see in his eyes that it’s been a lot of work living with Fuyumi, but the fact that every other aspect of her is perfect (like their daughter), he has no cause to complain.

In fact, Fuymi is almost too dutiful, to the point of making her husband feel like there’s no way he deserves someone so good. Then he remembers: not everyone could put up with all the innuendo…not to mention imbue their daughter with an almost identical attitude towards…that kinda stuff.

The day of Akiho and Haruka’s first date arrives, and Akiho predictably over-analyzes and over-prepares, to the point of deciding that 30 degrees is the ideal amount of head tilt to maximize her attractiveness to her man, which…yeah, Haruka doesn’t care about your head angle, especially when you’ve got such a cute outfit for the date!

Haruka runs into a bit of bad luck when across from him and Akiho is a real-life pervert with what looks like a blow-up doll-kinda thing(?), and Akiho takes comprehensive notes on both that and the movie they go to see, which is far raunchier than Haruka thought it would be.

That being said, Haruka, like Akiho’s father, is built for this kind of relationship, able to take any and all strange comments and requests, and only gently steer her back in the right direction of things veer off too far. Just being with her for the day made him happy, but that only makes Haruka feel bad for letting her research dominate the date.

Haruka says it’s no biggie; they can just go see the cherry blossoms on Sunday. The thought of another date so soon fills Akiho with joy, but she goes right back into her pattern of over-preparation, and she’s so anxious about the day she becomes sleep-deprived and even gets a fever.

After a trip to the (very inappropriate) nurse’s office and her mother picks her up, Akiho vows to get better for Sunday, and Haruka, not getting his hopes up, is shocked to discover on the day of their date her fever has disappeared. Let’s call it an efficient immune system, shall we?

Alas, most of the cherry blossoms already fell before they got there. Akiho is crestfallen, but again, Haruka reiterates that it’s no big deal (not a lot is  big deal to him, unless she’s on her knees before him in the school hall, speaking in a tone of voice that could be easily misinterpreted).

They can always come back next year, he tells her. Insinuating they’ll be together an entire year from now is awfully bold, but I don’t currently see anything getting in their way. I mean, look how happy Akiho is to hear that!

Speaking of ‘getting in the way’, I was glad none of the other girls in Haruka’s circle made an appearance this week; after the last episode I needed a break, and the show shines best when the lead couple is on screen. It was also neat to meet Akiho’s parents—It was essentially like looking into Akiho and Haruka’s future.

My Girlfriend Is ShoBitch – 02

After Haruka learns Akiho is a lot less comfortable sharing an umbrella in the rain than walking in it and getting her shirt wet (revealing that she’s not nearly as raunchy as all the research she’s collected suggests), we spend a seemingly impossibly long time with Haruka’s moe sister Kana, who is really annoying.

She’s only a year younger than her brother, and learning he has a girlfriend is a shock. Thankfully, after meeting Akiho, Kana realizes it’s not the end of the world; indeed, after some posturing, the two get along swimmingly, much to Haruka’s relief (and after clearing up some misunderstandings)

Akiho is class rep, which means it’s her job to fire up the class to do a formal cleaning, which she does with a stirring speech that inspires the boys about not letting their rooms get so dirty their moms clean them and find their dirty mag stashes.

Akiho is very prone to misunderstandings, so when she hears two guys equate switching girlfriends to discarding trash, she gets very nervous. Luckily Haruka is a sentimental guy who doesn’t like to throw stuff out, but treasure his “personal belongings”, which she also takes as meaning she’s safe from being discarded.

After watching an anime perpetuating the girlfriend making lunch for her boy, Akiho exposes one of her weaknesses (besides taking almost everything anyone says or does the wrong way): she’s a bad cook. What a shocker! Interestingly, Haruka doesn’t even get to try the eldritch abomination; Akiho keeps it away.

Instead, after seeing how good Shizuku is, she begs her senpai to be her cooking master, and in between the inappropriate arrangement of vegetables and the use of many a double entendre, they whip up a mean pot of beef stew.

When Shi asks for Haruka’s banana for desert, he seemingly calls her bluff, making her flustered…but he’s really just giving her his banana (this was a stretch, as they’re in Shi’s house, so they’re her bananas, surely).

Haruka walks Akiho home, but it’s raining again. Both have their own umbrellas, but Akiho decides to take a little step forward by pretending she doesn’t, so she and Haruka have to share, and walk close together so as not to get wet.

ShoB***ch is the definition of pleasant, lightweight rom-com fare. I still found Kana and Shizuku a bit too intrusive this week, and I’m hardly optimistic about the prospect of still other girls entering Haruka’s orbit, gumming up the works. While they’re tolerable at the moment, the show shines when it’s just Haruka and Akiho, with Yuuki Aoi delivering a nice low-key performance with the occasional burst of passion.