Domestic na Kanojo – 09 – Cavalcade of Unpleasantness

Time to go on the record: I am not a fan of the Natsuo x Hina route. It made sense for Natsuo to be infatuated with his beautiful and kind teacher, and for those feelings to remain even after their parents married. But as for Hina returning those feelings? I’m just not buying it, and Natsuo isn’t doing himself any favors with his incessant brooding, whining, and stalker-ish behavior that blows past any and all decent boundaries.

He’s also apparently decided to utterly ignore and move past the fact Rui was coming to his room to make out, without considering why she may have been doing that. Rui is thankfully less concerned with Natsuo than with her big sister leaving the house right now, blaming her and Natsuo’s shenanigans for being the primary factor in her move.

A serendipitous encounter with Hina’s ex who we learn is underclassman of Kiriya-sensei (which…who cares?) properly apologizes to Rui (with a $45 parfait), and doubts Hina is moving because of Rui, but because she genuinely wants to strike out on her own. That night, Hina is surprised to find Rui in such distress, but her lap is there for Rui’s head, and she assures her she’ll visit home when she can. It’s a nice sisterly moment, but obviously fails to address the Natsuo-shaped rift between them.

It was disconcerting enough when Hina said her move would make “meeting” with Natsuo more convenient, but when she gives him a key to her new place, she’s truly playing with fire. As she’s been fond of saying, Natsuo is still a kid, which basically means he lacks experience, emotional maturity, and above all, self-control. Give a kid an inch, and they’ll take a mile.

Predictably, as soon as he is able (and after coldly rebuking Rui) he rushes his horny ass to the apartment she’s still moving into, lets himself in, then sits by her bed until she wakes up (she’s exhausted from unpacking). They make out a bit, but thank goodness Hina pumps the brakes, because Natsuo “isn’t sure he’d be able to stop himself” from going all the way. Ugh.

You can tell Hina is being torn apart by the opposing forces in her heart—she knows she should be a good adult, teacher, and older sister (and thinks she’s failing at all of those). For whatever reason, she loves Natsuo more than that, and wants him in a way normally impossible—and certainly problematic—for those other three roles. So she delays, telling Natsuo there’s no need to rush; they have all the time in the world to do…whatever it is they’re doing.

I must also go on record in voicing my extreme displeasure at the sudden and baffling introduction of Alex, perhaps the most annoying and cliched character of any of the shows I’m watching this Winter. Did the show forget about Natsuo’s actual best friend in whom both he and Rui confided and relied upon? Why are they wasting so much time with this…creature? Whatever they have planned for him can’t be good…unless they plan to shoot him out of a cannon!

That brings us to Natsuo’s worst moment of the episode, which is saying something: confronting Hina at school about how he felt she was being too distant towards him, at school. She takes his hand and leads him somewhere presumably more private, but it’s still a window-filled hallway, and the vice principal is not far away. She once again appeases him, and kisses him, I say again, AT SCHOOL.

Some words to the wise, Natsuo: Hina isn’t your property, and if you get her fired, she won’t be able to afford your lovenest. Shape the ef up my dude! And Hina: stop enabling the bastard!

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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?

Domestic na Kanojo – 08 – Keep It Together

Natsuo is bowled over by the Japanese American transfer student Alex, who is biking indoors, and the two end up apprehending an underwear thief who stole from Rui, among others. At the police station, Al sees Rui and immediately asks Natsuo (who calls her “a friend”) if he’ll set him up with her.

This, when Natsuo is still trying to figure out how he feels about Rui, who is affectionate when they make out but otherwise her usual stoic, hard-to-read self. While making dinner, Natsuo comes right out and asks Rui if she’d want to hang out with him and Alex. she sees right through his feeble ploy, and storms off, positively furious.

He visits her room later with a peace offering of yaki-udon and an apology, but Rui wants him to apologize by kissing her. The two are closing in on second base when Hina enters the unlocked, slightly open door and sees the two embracing.

After a long, agonizing pause, Hina flees to her room, and when Natsuo tries to explain, she tells him she’s not in the state of mind in that moment to believe anything he says. Instead, she declares that she needs to stop living there.

Rui visits Hina and explains that she initiated things, because she’s pretty sure she likes Natsuo. When Hina brings up the fact they’re family, Rui doesn’t see a huge issue, since there’s no blood relation. Nevertheless, Hina thinks their mother would be sad.

Al gives Natsuo the advice that nothing will ever be solved if nobody talks to each other plainly and honestly about how they feel, but the next day Hina announces she’s going to move out and live on her own. Her mom and stepdad buy her explanation, but Rui and Natsuo suspect they’re to blame (obviously).

The entire family goes to a night festival while Hina is still around, and Rui wonders if she and Natsuo should cool it with the kissing for the time being. Meanwhile, Natsuo can’t stop looking at Hina’s nape. When Hina loses her cell phone, Natsuo takes her by the hand and leads her to a private place where they can talk.

But Hina remains evasive, other than to say it’s necessary for her to move out for both their sakes. Natsuo’s attempts to force an honest conversation backfire badly, when he refuses to let go of a Hina who’s clearly had enough, and she bites his hand. The manager listens to Natsuo and holds Hina in place, noting how ugly she looks when she’s angry (his response when she says she’s always ugly is both brutal and hilarious).

The manager, one of the waiters, and her young son all join Natsuo and Hina in another secluded spot so the latter can cool down, but she’s tired of being the adult, and starts acting like a child. The son offers her a lollipop to cheer her up, and it largely works.

The manager, waitress and son depart, and Natsuo listens as Hina explains how it was just as much jealousy as shock when she say him with Rui. Rui has always been a free spirit, so Hina always felt she had to be the “normal” one who “kept it together”, not simply shooting from the hip like her little sister. She sacrificed her grasp on her identity, in part, to protect Rui’s.

Even though Hina rejected him, she did so because she felt she had no choice; as the adult in the room, she couldn’t give in to her feelings, no matter how real or strong they were. Hearing that his love isn’t unrequited after all is a revelation to Natsuo, who embraces her and asks nothing more than to be able to hold her like that and say that they love each other for that brief period of time.

As the family heads home together, while Rui isn’t turned around and looking, Natsuo and Hina hold hands. So it would seem that Natsuo is choosing a sister, based on his longstanding feelings for Hina. But just because he now knows those feelings aren’t one-sided doesn’t change the fact that Rui has fallen for him, and he’s going to have to address that every bit as earnestly as he and Hina addressed where they’re at. Because one thing is certain: Rui ain’t dating Alex!

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 – 17 – Breaking Out of Her Shell

Ayado and Itou’s tearful reunion is prefaced by a brief foray into Ayado’s past, when her first love was a manga character (and not even a main character!) and she became invisible to 3D guys, with tastes that didn’t jive with the other girls. With kind, no-nonsense civil servant parents who left her to her own devices, before she knew it Ayado found herself locked in a shell.

Her new friends helped her break through and emerge from that shell, but her crush on Hikari and his subsequent rejection of her was a roller coaster of pain and embarrassment made her afraid to ever stray towards “that territory” again. That is, until her fear of Itou leaving her was greater than her fear of said territory.

When Ayado tearfully asks to be part of Itou’s life again, Itou tears up too, requiring them to share the handkerchief she borrowed from him. Ayado then reports what’s happened to Hikari and Iroha, and the next day Hikari is ready with a congratulatory cake. Longtime “Ayatou”shippers, Hikari among them, can now let out a sigh of relief and shed a tear or two of joy.

Meanwhile, Iroha finally gets to visit Hikari’s house again, and just when she starts to kiss him, his mom barges in to announce udon is for dinner. Hikari is astounded how quickly and naturally Iroha slips into his family’s rhythm, as if she was always meant to be there; his dad thanks her for all her help, while even Kaoru asks if he can call her big sister.

It’s certainly nice for Hikari to be done with soap opera stuff for the time being, but while Itou and Ayado quickly agree to go to a movie for their first date, Ayado experiences what’s best described as “joy overload.” Simply being near Itou, having his attention, and feeling the warmth of his hand has her fantasizing about doing much more serious things with him.

Because this is Ayado and Itou we’re talking about, her self-consciousness leads to her acting strangely, which Itou misinterprets as her having second thoughts about dating. But unlike past Ayado and Itou miscommunications, Ayado clenches her fists and sets the record straight before the day (and episode) is out.

Realizing she hasn’t actually verbalized how she feels, she starts by telling Itou he’s got it all wrong; far from not wanting to date him, she’s ecstatic beyond belief at the very idea, because she loves him. Then she does what she wanted to do all day and kisses him, and he kisses her back.

From there, no longer confined by any shell, Ayado asks if Itou would mind if she “hit him with the full force of her desires,” to which he wisely suggests they take things slowly. They may be a couple, but they still have a lot of learning about each other—not to mention themselves—to do. It’s a process we’ve already seen unfold with Hikari and Iroha with mostly good results. And so now Ishino and Takanashi are the only remaining singles in the group of friends.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 03 – Sex Ed, Ten Questions, and the Joy of Not Being Driven

When inappropriate literature is confiscated by the headmaster and given to Miyuki to dispose of, Chika takes one look and is scandalized, emphatically challenging fact about 1 in 3 high schoolers having “done it.” That means 1 in three in that very room could have already had an “experience”.

It’s Kaguya who comes right out and said she’s had one, shocking Chika and Miyuki and putting the latter in a bind: if asked if he’s done it, he knows Kaguya will sniff out a lie and likely respond with a devastating “that’s cute.”

Miyuki is defined by being extremely well-liked by the opposite sex (he’s even been given homemade chocolate…full of hair?!?) but utterly inexperienced with same (not counting his non-romantic interactions with Kaguya and Chika). Boundless confidence and pure chastity are a weird combo, but they take a back seat to Kaguya’s situation.

You see, Miyuki is bailed out from having to answer whether he’s “done it” after Kaguya says several things that paint the picture of an extremely perverse upbringing, having “done it” with a “newborn on videotape” and assuming Chika’s “done it” with her dog many times.

He finally asks Kaguya what she thinks “doing it” refers to, and she replies that it means “kissing.” It’s an answer someone who’s been boxed up and protected from any and all sexual education for all of her sixteen years. When Chika finally explains what “doing it” really means (a 15-minute process!), her faces says it all: she’s lost this round.

In the middle segment Miyuki notes how much Kaguya has mellowed, and how in the half-year they’ve worked together he’s come to understand her better. She decides to put him to the test with a game of “20 Questions”, only he limits him to just ten, since he claims to know her so well.

She writes something on a piece of paper, and he’ll have ten questions to figure out what it is. Miyuki is game, while Kaguya senses an opportunity.

Her “yes” and “no” questions take a turn when Miyuki asks “is it something you like” and she suddenly gets all bashful and flustered. He comes to think the thing she wrote down was him, as all the responses fit that conclusion so far.

Miyuki himself is so flustered by the end of the sequence, he blows his ninth question by providing a non-yes/no query. But after thinking about it more (or rather thinking about the other side of Kaguya he knows; the one that plots) He eventually guesses “dog”, and he’s correct.

Kaguya was probably trying to lead him to reveal his feelings by getting him to suggest she was talking about him, but he doesn’t go for it, and in the process proves that he indeed understands her. A win for Miyuki!

The rubber match…isn’t even a match between Kaguya and Miyuki, and Chika’s not even in the sequence. Intead, with a cat holed up in the engine compartment of the car that drives her to school, she decides to walk to school for the very first time, having watched other kids do it thousands of times from the car window.

It’s a beautiful sequence that underscores just how rare an experience this is for the sheltered princess, and knowing Miyuki’s bike route, attempts to “surreptitiously” cross paths so he’ll give her a ride to school. Her plan is seemingly foiled by a crying, scared middle schooler who can’t cross the street without a buddy.

As Kaguya stays with her for all the crosswalks that lead to her school, she learns that like she herself, this girl doesn’t want to walk alone. When Kaguya suggests she just arrange to walk with her friend, independent of official group walking, the girl labels her a genius before meeting up with her friend (who has the colorful nickname “Yeti”).

At this point, Kaguya knows she’ll be late to school, but as she’s coming to terms with that, the crossing sign flashes “stop” and none other than Miyuki screeches to a halt on his bike right beside her. After he gets over the shock of Kaguya being there, he instructs her to get on and ride with him, as it would be a black mark for the StuCo if she were late.

There’s no hesitation or embarrassment in what Miyuki does, and he even puts school rules ahead of traffic rules prohibiting two people on a bike. Logic is on Kaguya’s side today, and you can sense her joy as she rides with the furiously pedaling Miyuki, keeping her skirt down, her hair flowing in the wind.

Even though the next day she’s back in the car, she’ll always look fondly at the one exciting day she set out on foot and got picked up by the boy she likes. Kaguya wins without anyone losing—a marvelous example of the show balancing its usual cynicism with lovely, joyful segments like this.

Other Stuff:

  • The two cats in this episode looked really good. It’s like they were drawn by people who have actually seen cats before! :-)
  • Slight continuity error: In one shot, the Audi A8L in which the cat has taken up residence has a prop shaft holding open the hood, but in the next scene the shaft is gone. In real life the A8 hood has hydraulic struts.
  • Moments after the middle schooler mentions her friend “Yeti”, a real Yeti appears in the edge of the frame, using the crosswalk, as one does.
  • I couldn’t close without mentioning Chika’s absolutely adorable song-and-dance during the credits. Just tremendous animation that has the look of motion capture but without that fake smooth CGI look that plagued Zombieland Saga. A welcome surprise after an episode that was otherwise light on Chika.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 02 – It’s Not as Simple as Win or Lose

As a show that blasts through a lot of rapid-fire dialogue and shifts from one scenario to another, tackling a wide variety of interpersonal and societal concepts, it would seem Love is War trusts the intelligence of its audience.

But if that’s the case, why spend the first four minutes of this episode repeating all of the introductory explanations of how things work in the show? Did they just need to fill time, or did the producers think this all had to be explained again in consecutive weeks with the exact same narration and animation? I got it the first time you yelled it at me, VO guy!

Fortunately, that repetition is followed by three more very solid segments that build on the ongoing (and extremely counterproductive) conflict between Kaguya and Miyuki, starting with the notoriously frugal StuCo Prez finally acquiring a smartphone.

Unbeknownst to him, Miyuki dug into her bottomless rich girl resources to make it so he couldn’t resist buying one, so that he’d have to ask her for her contact info, which she’d consider no different than a confession, which would be a win for her.

While he doesn’t know he only has the phone because Kaguya wanted him to get one, he knows he can’t ask her for her info carelessly, and instead tries to bait her into asking for his by sharing a cute picture of him in his youth to Chika, then announcing he’ll change it in three minutes.

It may seem like playing dirty to use Chika as such a transparent pawn, but it’s not like she hasn’t influenced (and will influence) many of their decisions anyway. In this case, she’s a tool to lure Kaguya, who has to play dirty right back by applying “Maiden’s Tears” and protesting simply that Miyuki is being “mean.” It’s not a tactic she can use every time, but it works here, thanks to the psychological “Barnum Effect.”

However, Chika inadvertently throws another wrinkle into the equation that results in a draw, or loss, for both parties. She believes Kaguya is crying because she can’t chat on Line with her and Miyuki, because her antiquated flip phone—which she’s had since Kindergarten—won’t support the app. For all her towering rich girl resources, sentimentality is her undoing (as is her being unaware she couldn’t get Line on her phone).

As with all of their disputes, this isn’t really one that had to take place at all, if only Kaguya and Miyuki weren’t so proud and petty. This is proven when they innocuously exchange contact info anyway.

In Round Two, it’s frigid outside but Chika is already looking forward to Summer, and warns Kaguya and Miyuki that if they continue to sit on their hands they’ll graduate school with “nothing happening.” Chika means having fun high school memories, but Kaguya and Miyuki clearly see it as ragging on their lack of progress due to simple stubbornness and embarrassment wrapped up in an overstuffed “Love is War!” cover.

Chika suggests a Summer trip together, and Miyuki’s imagination immediately turns to the mountains, where he’ll woo Kaguya under the stars (with the requisite mention of Deneb and Altair before she states her desire to be “Alpha Centauri Bb to his B”). Naturally, Kaguya’s suggestion is to go to the sea, not the mountains.

Miyuki can’t swim, which he knows Kaguya would find “cute”, but every excuse he has, from crowds and sun to sharks, is immediately shot down by Kaguya, who had an entire manual prepared with counterarguments to anything he’d say in such a situation. Miyuki curses her for being such a rich girl; all her arguments backs up by cold hard cash. Besides, Kaguya says, the mountains are full of bugs—something the bug-hating Miyuki didn’t think of.

So he relents and says he’ll have to buy a swimsuit. Kaguya has won; they’re going to the beach, right? Wrong. Chika mentions she also needs to get a new swimsuit…because she won’t fit in her old one. Kaguya enters a body spiral, fearing she’ll be the one called “cute” by Miyuki  he inevitably compares her “peashooter” bust to Chika’s “tank-class” physique.

Now at a stalemate, with both now having good reasons not to go to either locale, they leave it up to Chika. Bad Idea; they should have come up with a third place to go as a compromise. Chika picks the mountains, but due to her previously unmentioned obsession with death and the occult, she picks the creepy Mount Osore. The match ends in neither a win or loss for anyone, but is simply “ruined.”

The third segment was my favorite, because it shakes things up a bit by having a wild card element other than Chika: a classmate seeking romantic advice from Miyuki. The kid assumes, like most of the school, not only that Miyuki and Kaguya are a couple, but that Miyuki is an experience veteran in the ways of love.

The truth is, as we know, that he has ZERO romantic experience, and is a complete dilettante in matters of love. But due to his otherwise high opinion of himself, his intellect, and his ability to bullshit, Miyuki decides to sally forth and offer advice, well aware that if he messes up and his ignorance is exposed, it could ruin his reputation.

This has all the makings of a train wreck in slow motion, and Kaguya is lucky enough to be there to eavesdrop, because we’re treated to her hilarious commentary of the advice session, in which she internally contradicts pretty much every piece of advice Miyuki provides.

She’s certain the chocolate the guy received was obligatory, but Miyuki insists it was meant to show that she actually loves him. Even the guy thinks she was making fun of him with her friends for not having a boyfriend, but Miyuki insists all four girls are into him, and he’ll have to break three hearts to win the fourth. I just couldn’t stop laughing not just at Miyuki’s ridiculous advice, but Kaguya’s harsh critique of same.

Finally, Miyuki demonstrates to the guy how to confess and ask the girl out, by using a tactic he “invented” that is nothing more than cornering a girl and slapping the wall, something Kaguya privately points out has been around forever. The thing is, Kaguya is on the other side of the door when Miyuki slams it, so in a way, he unknowingly does a wall-slam (or “wall-down” as he calls it) on her…and it kinda works.

Miyuki also tells the guy not to engage in unsightly convoluted schemes with the girl he likes, and even he can’t ignore the irony of him making that kind of statement…convoluted schemes being his stock and trade.

The guy, whom Kaguya has concluded to be an even bigger idiot and naif than Miyuki, thanks him for his advice, and brings up the rumor that Miyuki and Kaguya are dating, which flusters both of them. Miyuki quickly denies, and furthermore relays his suspicion that Kaguya doesn’t even like him and may indeed hate him.

When the guy asks him how he feels about Kaguya, Miyuki lists all the things he doesn’t like first, irking her from behind the door, before launching into ebullient praise and declaring her the “perfect woman”. The fact is, Miyuki spotted Kaguya’s hair peeking out from behind the door and so said what he knew she wanted to hear—as well as something he truly believed about her, but wouldn’t suffer consequence since she “wasn’t there to hear it.”

Similarly, Kaguya can openly display her wonderful mood after having such nice things said about her without worrying about him getting suspicious about why; after all, she doesn’t know he spotted her. Still, while there’s no consequence there isn’t much benefit to Miyuki’s actions, as it’s not like he wasn’t able to get Kaguya to confess, so he’s the loser for expending so much effort. On the bright side, as I predicted, the guy’s wall-slam actually ended up working (for once), so go figure!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 01 – The First to Confess Loses!

Here it is: perhaps the romantic comedy of the Winter. All dramatic theatrical staging, lighting, and musical stabs, Kaguya-sama: Love is War elevates something as deceptively simple as mutual romantic interest between two high schoolers into a grand operatic life-and-death affair.

Part of that is because the two in question aren’t ordinary high schoolers: are the top two students at the most prestigious school in the country. StuCo Vice President Shinomiya Kaguya’s family owns a good chunk of Japan, while President Shirogane Miyuki, while a commoner by comparison, possesses unsurpassed academic prowess.

Let’s get one thing straight: these two like each other, but would never ever say as such, let alone confess it. To do so would be to surrender the upper hand, shift the power dynamic, and become the supplicant, ceding dominance to the confessee. Despite their disparate backgrounds, Kaguya and Miyuki have too much pride and dignity to let that happen.

As such, while the rest of the student body sees them as the perfect couple who may even already be secretly dating, the two exist in a constant state of war, with the StuCo office serving as the battlefield. The neutral party between them, the far less brainy secretary Fujiwara Chika, often serves as a wild card in the pair’s ensuing battles.

In the first sequence, she’s also a pawn: Kaguya planted movie tickets in Chika’s mailbox, knowing she wouldn’t be able to go and would offer them to her and Miyuki. This creates a scenario in which Miyuki asks Kaguya if she wants to know, knowing that boy-girl pairs who go to this specific movie tend to end up as couples.

Their battle of wills is a chess game of moves, counter-moves, and counter-counter-moves, but when Chika also points out the tickets are also valid for an innocuous kids movie, a chaotic element is added to the pair’s already complex calculations, overheating their brains. Worse, Chika snatches the only source of sugar in the office that they could use to recharge and rally. Thus, the first battle we witness, both Kaguya and Miyuki lose.

In battle #2, Kaguya receives an anonymous love letter, and makes it known to both Miyuki and Chika that she fully intends to go, hoping it will provoke Miyuki into slipping up and demanding she not go…because he loves her. Miyuki knows what Kaguya intends, and attempts to dissuade her not as a man, but under his authority as StuCo President to discourage illicit relationships. He even considers tattling to the teacher, a risky move, but one that won’t expose his true feelings.

Kaguya counters by declaring that if it’s true love, she will risk suspension or even expulsion to give her body and soul to the writer of the letter, which almost causes Miyuki to slip up. He turns things around by asking, very speifically for the sake of argument, if she’d still go on the date if he were to confess to her. Kaguya’s true feelings are momentarily exposed, and she admits, too easily, that she’d reconsider before coming to her senses and preparing to go through with the date.

Ultimately Chika again intervenes in the battle of minds, grabbing Kaguya and tearfully declaring she won’t let her get expelled for a date, because she loves her too much to let such a thing happen. And so, with a crucial but unintentional assist by Chika, Kaguya loses this round.

The theme of the third and final battle of the episode (which packs a lot of bang for the buck!) is lunch. Specifically, Kaguya’s desire to taste a good old-fashioned classic Japanese school lunch with all the standbys: omelettes, hamburger, white rice, miso, plum, and most important, octopus wieners. The lunches she gets are prepared by a team of professional chefs, but Miyuki’s got the stuff she wants.

Of course, she can’t simply ask for a taste. But Chika certainly can, and does, compounding Kaguya’s anguish. She brings in an extra-fancy lunch, hoping to entice Miyuki to trade, but he doesn’t bite. Miyuki even makes Chika an identical lunch just for her, and with every bite (and indirect kiss) Kaguya’s opinion of Chika gets lower and more sinister. Miyuki can sense Kaguya’s negative aura this whole time, but assumes she’s looking down on his meager commoner repast, when quite the opposite is true.

Miyuki suspects Kaguya is up to something, even though this time she just wants a taste of his lunch, and ends up retreating from the office for StuCo business rather than find out what that might be, to live another day. However, since he fled, and Chika ends up offering her a cocktail weiner unbidden, Kaguya wins this last round, bringing her and Miyuki’s week one record to 1-1-1 each (or 1-2 if the first battle is a loss for both; I consider that a draw).

And there you have it! Despite all their constant scheming and wheel-spinning, I found Kaguya and Miyuki to both be likable, rootable characters, even if they remain doomed to remain in a stalemate as long as they maintain their stubborn positions of waiting for the other party to make the first move. The closed-off, bottle-like nature of the StuCo office gives the episode a compactness and laser-focus, and while one more StuCo member has yet to be introduced, I hope the cast stays this small.

Full of lively competitive energy, but with underlying mutual affection and respect, I’m looking forward to watching Kaguya and Miyuki spar in the future, with Chika in the middle demonstrating that they could make things so much easier for themselves if they just lightened up!

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 13 – In It to Win It

Well well well, if it isn’t my favorite poorly-animated romance of Spring 2018, picking back up like nothing happened. In truth, it looks a little better, if still not very good. At least the light pastel palette is soothing enough. Visual shortcomings aside, I’ve always thought of 3DK as more than the sum of its parts, and stayed invested enough in the first dozen episodes to welcome a dozen more. Also, it’s a slow Winter so far.

So. Reaching another normie milestone, Hikari is voted cultural festival rep by his class. He and Itou have classically peace’d out for such things but this year is different, and he doesn’t have a choice. As for Itou, he’s trying to evolve, which means finally mustering up the guts to confess to the eternally pleasant Ayado, who turns him down simply because she’s not quite over the emotional turmoil of her first crush and rejection.

Hikari is there for Itou, and it doesn’t even take that long for Itou and Ayado to encounter one another and recover from the incident. They value each other too much as friends to throw that away, and so they agree to continue on as they have.

Ayado also offers to assist Itou with his class’ maid cafe, seeing as how she’s a pro at that. The next day Itou cuts his hair—which Ishino really likes—continuing to move forward with purpose.

The stress of Hikari’s job as festival rep is somewhat undercut by Itou’s exploits, but that’s actually okay. It’s Iroha who gets the really short shrift this first week. She and Hikari are cordial enough to start, but when he misreads her reluctance to enter the beauty pageant, she storms off, and by the time he sees her again, she’s already decided she’s going to do the pageant anyway. Hikari may be lucky, but he often lacks the best timing.

Itou worrying about Iroha slipping away from him when the pageant makes her more popular also feels like an older version of Itou; the one who didn’t understand why Iroha actually loves him.

Never mind; he’s been appointed a judge in the pageant, which means he’ll be judging his girlfriend. That shouldn’t prove awkward at all, no siree! So this was a brisk episode full of stuff, enough of it that I wonder where characters like Itou go from here if that is indeed that as far as Ayado is concerned. But I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 13 (Fin) – Back to the Future…In Color!

The structure of the Irodoku finale is simple: Everyone says their goodbyes before Hitomi heads off back to her proper time. Shou (“I loved…your photos”), Chigusa (“Uhh…Smile more, I guess?”), Kurumi (“Don’t make me cry!”), Asagi (“I don’t care, I’m crying!”), and Kohaku (“See you in 60 years!”) each get their turn as the star sand matures, but when it’s time for Yuito, both he and Hitomi hesitate to say everything the want to say, despite the fact this may be the last time they see each other.

Turns out Hitomi, or rather Hitomi’s unconscious magic, isn’t going to be satisfied with their sedate, half-assed goodbyes. The magical device starts to malfunction, and Hitomi is swallowed up into another full-dive illusion. Only Yuito jumps into the stream and ends up in the same place. He rushes about looking and finally finds her, devoid of color, and they embrace.

They thank each other for having such profound effects on each other’s lives before confessing their love to each other, saying all the things left unsaid before. Yuito was all but done drawing before she showed up, and Hitomi couldn’t see colors. Both had shut themselves into dark, gray corners, but now the walls of those corners have shattered and given way to brilliant colors.

But as I predicted, love is the answer here. Saying she loves Yuito and hearing that he loves her back is enough to restore color to her world; this time, permanently. In the moments before she’s sent back to the future, she can see everyone and the town in color for the first time.

Kohaku privately remarks that it wasn’t her time magic that sent Hitomi back; it was Hitomi’s own unconscious magic simply wearing off. Shortly after Hitomi disappears, Kohaku gets a text from “Kohaku Level 77” in the year 2078: Hitomi has returned safe and sound.

Her life-changing journey thus at an end, Hitomi finds herself on the same hill where she left her granny, and they embrace tearfully. Kohaku (she insists Hitomi call her that rather than “Granny” since they became such good friends in the past) then presents Hitomi with a time capsule containing all the photos they took together.

It was probably already there, buried in the yard, before Hitomi left; Kohaku always knew she’d become a great enough mage to send Hitomi back. She’s just glad her action led to Hitomi finding happiness. Finally, she shows Kohaku the children’s book she read as a child—the only thing she saw in color. Turns out, it was written by Aoi Yuito.

After leaving flowers at her mother’s grave, Hitomi, brimming with the confidence her time in the past awakened, reconnects with her friends with school and starts an all-new Magic Photography Arts Club. As for where the 70ish-year-old Yuito and the others are…the show does not disclose that, nor does Hitomi seem in a hurry to seek them out.

That seems strange, since one would’ve thought Kohaku would have kept in touch with one if not all of them, and one would think that due to advances in technology people would live longer than they do in 2018. Alas, this finale wasn’t about Hitomi reconnecting with her friends from the past (other than Kohaku), nor her rather uninspiring romance with Yuito.

It was about Hitomi leaving that dark corner where she shut herself off, embracing all of the new colors in her world, and resuming her life in her time. She got what she needed in the past. Now it’s time to build a new happy future for herself.—MagicalChurlSukui

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 10 – Diving In

As a result of Shou confessing to Hitomi, she and Asagi find themselves “at odds”, as he puts it (naturally he has no idea why, the big dolt). But neither of them want to keep not talking to each other. So Hitomi doesn’t give up trying to reach out to Asagi, and the two end up making up pretty quickly and easily once Asagi works through her frustrations as more her own fault that Hitomi’s.

After all, someone who’s known Shou as long as she has should know full well how direct and clear she has to be, and she hasn’t been, leading to him seeking love elsewhere. No matter how obvious it may seem to her that she’s in love with Shou, it’s ultimately up to her to make it known to him beyond doubt. Besties once more, Asagi and Hitomi scarf down some healing parfaits and then partake in therapeutic karaoke with Kurumi and Kohaku.

The next day, Kohaku announces the magical presentation which will be her contribution to the club for the festival. She intends, with Hitomi’s help, to transport visitors into a drawing; specifically, one of Yuito’s fantastical pastels. But Kohaku makes it clear to Hitomi she can’t do it without her. Hitomi has a special ability to reach into the heart of the artist (in this case Yuito’s), and has faith she’ll be able to do it. All it will take is dedication to the goal, discipline, and practice, practice, practice.

First she sends one paper airplane into a Seurat painting on the computer. Then two, then five, then one for every member of the club, in under three minutes. Kohaku may have asked a lot of Hitomi, but she knows how powerful Hitomi’s magic is, as well as how it’s been dormant much of her life. It’s time to let it out to stretch its legs, and once Hitomi gets it, it’s as invigorating for her as it is exciting for her granny.

Yuito completes his drawing—one with a theme park aesthetic that combines all of the club members’ disparate requests—and Hitomi and Kohaku successfully transport everyone inside. For the first time, Hitomi and her friends can see the same colors at the same time.

It’s a glorious sequence, diving into the drawing, and reminded me more and more of the similarly trippy What Dreams May Come, which starts out all vivid and lush and slowly grows more dark and menacing as its protagonist descends into the bowels of the hereafter.

Hitomi and Yuito are enjoying a lovely stroll in the forest when he spots his neon fish and follows it into a dark corner of the painting. Before long, he finds a stone statue of a seated, forlorn Hitomi, then gets shut into an even deeper darker chamber where he finds a young and even more forlorn Hitomi drawing sad monochromatic pictures of a princess and queen seemingly perpetually separated by a deep black boundary.

No matter how hard Yuito tries to cheer up this illusory ‘lil Hitomi, she rejects his attempts as unwanted and futile. Nothing can cross that black boundary. She doesn’t know why; she just knows you…just can’t. When Yuito snaps back into reality with everyone else outside the picture, Hitomi finds herself suddenly crying.

Clearly, just as Hitomi was able to reach into Yuito’s heart and bring his drawing to life for everyone to share in, Yuito’s drawing drew out a part of Hitomi. Now that he’s seen it, he’s not just going to pretend he didn’t.

She and Yuito go to their vantage point and talk through it. Yuito brings uncomfortable things up Hitomi would rather be left unsaid, right up until she’s shouting for him to stop already, but she realizes he’s trying to help and so she talks, for the first time, about how things were.

Hitomi’s mother was the first Tsukishiro woman in a long, long time who had no magical ability, but Hitomi had plenty. She believes her having magic is the reason her mother suddenly left, and blames and curses herself for not calling out to her. Yuito rightly assures her that Hitomi shouldn’t feel responsible just because she had magic and her mother didn’t, and rather than shoulder all the blame, it’s okay for her to be angry.

Hitomi’s guilt over the abilities she was born with led to her hatred of, and turning of her back on, magic. Until now, of course. Even without her mother around, she’s not alone. She has friends who care about her and are amazed and moved and made happier by the magical gifts Kohaku is helping her hone. And perhaps that’s why her grandmother sent her to the past to begin with: to show her that her magic is a blessing, not a burden.

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 09 – Shou Breaks the Logjam

Ah, Photography Club: where there are always plenty of photos of the members looking at one another to determine who likes who. Shou can see how good Hitomi and Yuito look together, while Asagi can tell Shou likes Hitomi. Neither of them are particularly happy about that! If only Shou would look Asagi’s way…and neither Hitomi or Yuito existed…

In high school, time moves a lot slower than adult years, making it feel like you have all the time in the world. But Shou, a senior, is out of time, and can’t afford to wallow in indecision. So he offers to take Hitomi on a picture-taking trip around town, just the two of them.

It’s not overtly a “date”, but it’s a big enough deal that Shou feels it only right to inform Yuito of the plans, which of course imply other plans. Yuito, whose mother worries is too aloof like his dad, isn’t one to suddenly ask a girl out. But he takes the “not relevant/doesn’t matter” route with Shou’s pursuit of Hitomi. HE AIN’T MAD, FOLKS.

The trip goes very swimmingly, if platonically by necessity—Hitomi is not under any illusions she’s on anything other than a photo-taking trip with her senpai—though Shou certainly seems to be enjoying the fact that it very well could be a date.

Chigusa and Kurumi (who seem to be spending the day together like NBD, bless ’em) spot the two, but also shrug it off as not a date. Shou and Hitomi even climb to the highest vantage point in the area at sunset and exchange flattering compliments of each others’ personalities.

It’s not until Hitomi turns to walk home that Shou confesses and asks if she’ll go out with him; fortunately the train doesn’t prevent her from hearing him. Unfortunately she’s so shocked and startled from the confession she bolts away, and spends the rest of the night and the next day in a haze.

At first she tells Kohaku nothing, but between skipping meals, putting her shoes in the locker wrong, and running away again when Shou says good morning, Kohaku can tell there’s definitely something off.

Hitomi finally comes clean, by hypothetically asking Kohaku if there’s anyone she likes or if she’s ever been confessed to. She asks these questions in earshot of the whole class—a high school violation if ever there was one—but when they’re alone Kohaku tells her that ultimately the choice is hers to make, based on her feelings for the ‘rhetorical guy.’ For Kohaku’s part, she’d rather be rejected then not given an answer, even if it hurts.

Asagi can tell Shou is being uncharacteristically gloomy as they look at the pictures he took of places they’d been to countless times. When Asagi asks Hitomi if she’s coming to club, Hitomi has the same questions for Asagi she had for Kohaku, and Asagi spots the photo on Hitomi’s camera of the same place Shou was.

The gig thus well and truly up, Hitomi says she doesn’t “deserve” either to be liked or to like someone, something Asagi characteristically rejects. She urges Hitomi to do something lest “that person” get hurt, then storms off to club.

To Hitomi’s credit, she doesn’t let this uncertainty linger, nor allow Shou to suffer longer than this episode. On the roof she formally rejects him, stating there’s someone else (even if she’s unsure of the true nature of those feelings).

It’s clear to Shou about whom she’s talking: Yuito, who joins Shou on the roof and witnesses him shouting at the top of his lungs in a kind of release. Both the confession and the scream amaze Yuito; both are things he can’t imagine doing himself.

Later, Hitomi tracks Asagi back down, but before she can say anything, Asagi tells her that the person she liked (past tense) was Shou, the person Hitomi just rejected. Then she runs off and crumples into a little ball on a playground. What a fine mess we have here!

Bloom Into You – 08 – A Friend and a Senpai

Yagate Kimi ni Naru is the finest school romance I’ve watched since Tsuki ga Kirei back in the Spring of last year, and I’ve known that for some weeks now. Both shows are wonderful to look at, but more importantly they feature some wonderfully fleshed-out characters and relationships, and the more I learn about both, the deeper I sink into the show.

It would have been so easy and expected for someone like Sayaka to launch a transparent full-scale war against Yuu once she determined she was a potential threat to her relationship with Touko. Not only did YKN not take that route, but continued to develop Sayaka as someone just as confused, frustrated, and yet still mostly happy as Yuu.

Watching Sayaka take “revenge” on her former senpai who so coldly dumped her was a thing of absolute beauty, and a perfect way to start the episode in which her and Yuu’s rivalry is laid bare (well, more bare). And how perfect was it that Touko swiftly delivered “payback” in the form of continuing to hold Sayaka’s hand?

Yuu gets the feeling that she and Sayaka have some things to talk about, and that the present chill is affecting their relay baton exchange game, so after school she invites Sayaka to join her for a repast of McDonalds. Sayaka almost immediately calls Yuu out for her “olive branch”, which could harm Sayaka’s image simply by dint of Yuu being her junior.

Yuu holds her own, saying she wouldn’t put it so “dramatically.” Still, the two come to a sort of mutual respect once they learn that neither is the person they expected: Sayaka isn’t so easygoing, and Yuu isn’t so timid and respectful. Both appreciate their directness with each other.

That directness breaks down when neither comes right out and says what they both insinuate by mincing words. Instead, Sayaka says she likes Touko very much “as a close friend” while Yuu likes her “as a senpai” … because what other possible way would they like her??? (Gee, I wonder.)

This first segment of the episode is called “Intersection,” which is fitting in many ways. First, Sayaka and Yuu find common ground and gain a bit more understanding of what makes one another tick, leading to them eventually getting the baton hand-off right.

But an intersection isn’t just a meeting, but a splitting into different directions. In the interests of being as open with Sayaka as possible regarding Touko, she expresses her hope that after the stage play Touko will be more open and “like herself”, dropping the Ms. Perfect act. Such a prospect frightens both of them, since they’re not sure what the hell they’d do in such an instance.

Would Sayaka finally confess her feelings? Would Yuu be left in the lurch? Neither has any idea what such a future holds? Regardless, I love every minute Yuu and Sayaka share the screen, especially now that they’ve reached a measure of détente.

The second segment deals with another common school romance trope: the Rainy Day Umbrella Share. It starts with Yuu Being Yuu, which is to say being super-kind to those she cares about, even if it means getting wet. When the guy Akari likes forgets his umbrella, she nudges her in the guy’s direction, though the two were going to walk home together. Akari is deeply grateful for the gesture, and off she goes with the guy, the two already looking like a couple.

This leaves Yuu stranded at school, as the only available loaner umbrella is useless. She calls her sister, but when Rei’s boyfriend answers, she says never mind; she doesn’t want to interrupt their date. She’s also hesitant to call Touko, not just because she doesn’t want to give her the wrong idea or just because she doesn’t want to burden her. There’s a number of factors that drive her hesitation; another reflection of her character that Rei has down to a T in a brief scene with her boyfriend.

When she says Yuu is great at getting on with things once she’s dipped her toe into the water, so to speak; it’s that initial hesitation that’s her problem. Now knowing pretty clearly how much Yuu’s friend Touko likes her sister, Rei expresses her hope Yuu will find the person she needs to give her those oh-so-important nudges—much like the one Yuu gave Akari so an opportunity wouldn’t be missed.

Much to Yuu’s surprise, Touko actually called her while she was on the phone with Rei, and shows up with an umbrella just when Yuu was about to call her. They walk together with Touko holding the umbrella, but once Yuu sees that Touko’s shoulder is getting soaked she insists on taking it; they compromise by holding it together.

When they take a rest under an awning, Yuu proceeds to dry Touko off with a towel, in a very warm and delicate scene. Yuu’s “pampering” makes Touko happy, but she’s worried she’s taking advantage of Yuu’s kindness and that resentment will build up in Yuu and curdle into hatred.

It’s a perfectly plausible scenario from Touko’s perspective, since she still believes Yuu when she says her feelings are still just one-sided. Of course, that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, as Yuu betrays when she blushingly tells Touko how happy she was to be rescued by her and her umbrella.

Yuu quickly corrects by saying she “meant nothing weird” about it, and Touko thinks to herself “that’s more the Yuu I know.” But that’s the whole point: she doesn’t know the Whole Yuu…nor the Whole Sayaka. Both girls have acknowledged and accepted each others’ existences. Now comes the hard part: acknowledging and expressing Touko is much more to them than the words “friend” or “senpai” alone can express.

P.S. The piece of music that plays during particularly dramatic scenes reminds me of Uematsu’s “A Secret Sleeping in the Deep Sea,” one of my all-time favorite video game audio tracks.