Hanebado! – 05 – The Discarded Daughter

Ayano lived her childhood absolutely idolizing her mother and soaking up every bit of badminton know-how she could. Other than Elena, there was virtually no one else in her life she cared about. In other words, her mom was her family…until she took off, and Ayano has felt alone ever since (sorry, Elena).

Or, at least she had felt alone. Now that she’s been welcomed and embraced by her team, she feels like she can keep playing with their support. Riko offers as much at the end of their first game which they lost to Connie, 21-12. Kentarou resets the defense so Ayano has the run of the back 2/3rds of the court for the second game.

By throwing her out of the frying pan and into the fire, Ayano eventually picks up her game, returning shots that she’d previously let drop. Her sly persistence starts to frustrate Connie, who in turn steps up her game, and all of a sudden their respective teammates are treated to one hell of a grudge match, with neither Ayano nor Connie believing defeat to be an option.

Connie draws from her own childhood, which looks as lonely as Ayano’s post-mom time, while Ayano gets all Sadako-y like she did when she beat Nagisa in the nationals. The two competitors are so focused on each other, Connie ends up getting a cramp in her leg, and her partner leaps in to score the winning point, catching Ayano and Connie alike off guard and leading them to declare the result of the match corrupted.

Both go off skulking, only to be picked back up by the very people she felt were unnecessary (in Connie’s case) or the people whom she felt she’d let down (in Ayano’s). Sora, who’d been pretty quiet up to this point, confesses that she hated Ayano for seeming not to care despite being so talented, but has revised her feelings about her after seeing how far she went in that match. The two girls end up spending the evening having fun with their teammates.

The next morning when both teams are set to return home, Ayano confronts Connie, who tells her what I (and probably everyone else watching) had suspected last week: Connie is the girl Ayano’s mother replaced her with as daughter. Connie’s goal is to prove to her “mama” that she’s the better player by beating Ayano.

As I mentioned last week, one would assume the question of “who is best” had already long been settled by the fact Ayano’s mother f-ing abandoned her biological daughter for Connie. I guess Connie just isn’t satisfied with her mom’s decision, but wants to be sure she’s better than Ayano. As for Ayano, on the bus ride home she breaks out her crazy face once more, declaring that she “doesn’t need” her mother any more.

While that’s a depressing sentiment, somewhat creepily delivered, I can hardly blame her for wanting to give up on the person who gave up on her. But I still feel there’s a reconciliation story brewing here. Simply stating she’s done seeking her mom’s approval doesn’t magically make it so…right?

Hanebado! – 04 – A New Challenger Approaches

After her playground epiphany, Ayano joins the badminton club, and before she knows it she’s on a bus with the rest of the club to a summer practice facility. While on the ride, the classically alone Ayano has her hair tended to by Yu, resulting in a photo and a warm feeling of belonging; of finally not being alone, but part of something bigger: a team.

But wouldn’t you know it, the facility is already occupied by another badminton team, and not just any team, but the “FreGirls” of Frederica, one of the country’s top teams. One of their players wanted very much to play Ayano’s school. Ayano heads out to a konbini to buy water, but ends up lost thanks to Nagisa’s kiddy, nigh worthless map.

While lost, she meets a foreigner who’s also lost: a blonde from Denmark who offers her a lolly when they make progress with the map.

Things are going swimmingly until the foreigner learns the identity of the cute little girl she’s walked with. The moment she hears the name “Hanesaki” she freezes and drops her change, then accuses Ayano of playing mind games with her by “pretending to be friendly.”

The next they meet, the tall blonde, Connie C, is one half of Ayano and Riko’s doubles opponents, and promises to show her how “meaningless” Ayano’s “team” is. She warns her partner not to interfere and let her play alone. Clearly, what she really wants is a one-on-one match against Ayano.

When her partner does interfere, Connie quits in a huff, letting the other girl struggle alone in a two-on-one match until she basically taps out. Connie doesn’t believe in teams, after all; she’s a team of one, and gets what she wants. As for why her captain and coach do nothing to stop her selfish behavior, who knows?

Connie takes over, effortlessly turning a 10-3 deficit into an 11-10 lead with mammoth vertical leaps and a smash that even the guys doubt they could return. Neither Ayano or Izumi can do anything. It’s Serigaya Kaoruko all over again.

Only…it’s actually worse than Kaoruko. “Connie C” Is Connie Christensen, a Danish prodigy who has already won the world championship in her age group. In every physical measure pertinent to badminton, she’s Ayano’s superior, and wants to make it clear she’s superior in every other aspect of the game as well. Tachibana knows her, and doubts Ayano will be able to hang.

Connie is also the blonde girl in the magazine article in which Ayano learned her mother had basically replaced her as daughter, which makes this even more fucked up. Connie even ties back her hair the same way as Ayano’s mother, adding insult to injury.

Apparently not satisfied with everything she’s already taken from Ayano, Connie now seems to want to crush Ayano’s spirit, such that even being in a fun high school team won’t give her joy or relief. That said, she relied on an awful lot of coincidences to end up in the match. Among them:

  • She knew Ayano had joined the badminton club, even when Ayano herself wasn’t sure until very recently;
  • Her school’s team ended up at the same facility as Ayano’s club;
  • Ayano ended up going out for water, and ended up meeting Connie first;
  • They ended up playing against each other.

Coincidences aside, one has to wonder what Connie’s true motive is, and why she is so intent on psychologically crippling a stranger. I mean, isn’t the fact that Ayano’s mom abandoned Ayano for Connie enough proof for Connie that’s she’s better? Did she really travel all the way to Japan just to beat someone who had already ‘lost” to her? Apparently! And that makes Connie a garbage person…until further notice.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 02

Mari’s seething wanderlust, as well as her determination not to waste what’s left of her high school youth, makes her extra susceptible to Shirase’s Antarctic plans. When Shirase tells her to get a part-time job at once, Mari is looking for ’em (interestingly, both of them come across the same sketchy job offer for “hospitality” work with guys).

Megumi thus plays the crucial role of managing Mari’s expectations. The expedition Shirase wants to join is in dire financial straits. The safety of those who join it is not guaranteed. They’re not simply going to let high school kids join them just because they really really want to.

When Megumi’s pragmatism slips into Mari’s interactions with Shirase, Shirase can smell the doubt and hesitation, and snaps at Mari, storming off. But Mari doesn’t doubt Shirase, and she does want to do it…she just wants to do it right. As Mari forlornly walks alone, it isn’t long before Shirase returns, realizing she was too harsh, but assuring Mari she does have a plan in place.

That same evening, Mari has a part-time job, at the local convenience store. There, she meets fellow 16-year-old Miyake Hinata (Iguchi Yuka, doing her Araragi Tsukihi voice), who shows an eager Mari the ropes.

The subject of The Trip comes up, and Hinata wants IN. Thankfully, Shirase isn’t particular about who else comes along, and so now the two are three. And while Hinata’s decision to join them seems abrupt (and it kinda is regardless), she’s a person who’s never liked blending in with the crowd, which is why she bypassed high school and is working towards college.

Her time working at the konbini also made her good at observing people, like the students of Mari and Shirase’s school, including the two of them. She always saw something different about them; something she calls “honesty”. Genuine-ness, earnesty, whatever you call it, she knew they were special, and wanted to be a part of what their noble undertaking.

Next stop: Shinjuku, and these three girls from Gunma stick out like a sore thumb-ma (sorry, that was really lame). The intense sights and sounds of the big city make all three a little crazy, but nobody more than Shirase, who reveals that her grand plan was to crash the Antarctic expedition meet-up (in Kabukicho of all places) by…seducing the guys.

The moment Shirase points her head up and tries to act like a “college student” like it’s no big deal, she’s immediately picked up by a guy, and becomes understandably flustered. She’s also adamant that she can’t be the one who attempts the seduction of the expedition team, because they know her.

So Shirase and Hinata shove Mari out, and her old-fashioned sexy pose utterly fails, they shove Shirase out. The people who know her spot her, and the chase is on. Why do the girls run? I’m not sure, but neither are they. Well, Shirase knows, because this isn’t the first time she’s tried to join the expedition.

But despite the fact Shirase’s plan is crumbling before our very eyes, the fact of the matter is that she, Mari, and Hinata are having a hell of a lot of fun running around Shinjuku…Youth In Motion. Unfortunately, none of the three (even Hinata, good in short-distance sprinting) can beat the stamina of their pursuers.

I love how I was just as taken in by the legitimacy and precision of her plan as Mari and Hinata, even with Megumi offering early words of caution. And yet, even with the adults here telling Shirase “this isn’t happening”, even when they refuse her part-time Antarctica fund…even if what she’s doing amounts to chasing her mother’s ghost, I’m still on Shirase’s side.

She has to go to Antarctica. She can’t not. What kind of show would this be if she failed? It’s just, she’s gone about it the wrong way. Seduction and bribes won’t be effective, but maybe something—or someone else will be. Someone like, say, the daughter of the wealthy-looking woman who was with the expedition team.

That girl happens to be on the same train as the other three girls, two of which—Hinata and Mari—vote to relieve Shirase of her leadership role. It’s for her own good. She’s been trying and failing to get on that ship her way for the better part of three years. Now it’s time to see if others have more luck.

Gorgeous, charming, emotionally satisfying, and brimming with the energy of determined youth, and the anticipation of adventure writ both small (Shinjuku) and large (further south), Yorimoi is a no-brainer Winter keeper.

Net-juu no Susume – 04

A new series of cute loot and a bonus point campaign spur Morika, already in high spirits upon becoming partners with Lily, to splurge a little. Only a happy circumstance takes place at the convenience store as she has to wait a few minutes for the store’s e-money system to boot.

Those minutes are spent suddenly learning that the store clerk is also a fan of Fruits de Mer, and goes on and on about it in a way Morioka find very fulfilling. They have so much fun talking, the clerk neglects the fact there’s a guy who needs his cigs!

Even so, it was exhilarating for Morioka to finally talk with someone about MMOs in real life. In the game, Hayashi encounters Kanbe and Lilac, the latter of which has just gone to the loot outlet and picked out some stuff that’s very fluffy and cute, but Kanbe prefers what she usually wears.

We also meet Lilac’s real-life player, who both laments not having snatched up Hayashi as her partner and seems to have a bit of a spark with Kanbe. Hayashi manages to score both rare and common loot, but lucky Lily takes the cake by scoring the whole set.

When in-game, NjS packs a lot of neat details, like the way Lilac sees Hayashi as a sensitive guy (compared to Kanbe) rather than what he actually is—a she; Pokotarou suddenly spawning in the same space as Lilac, obscuring her avatar; or Himeralda’s player playing as her husband, who plays Pokotarou; a surprising and clever occurrence.

But NjS makes good use of both of its worlds, and seems really balanced this week. Sakurai is depressed about not being able to see Morioka, and as he lists off all the ways he’s tried, Koiwai rightly suspects him of stalking, which isn’t good.

But then…Koiwai stakes out the convenience store, bumps into Morioka as planned, and works his businessman magic. Morioka is initially like, “why is this guy talking to me?!” and rightly so, even if she weren’t naturally shy; but once they get to talking they establish a quick rapport, though Koiwai comes off as a little pushy in gaining her contact info.

When Koiwai shows Sakurai what he’s done, how he managed to get a date with Morioka, Sakurai’s expression is of shock, which if the camera had lingered would have surely turns to dejection. Is Koiwai simply helping Sakurai out, or does he want to date Morioka? I hope it’s the former; besides seeming like a nice guy, what kind of friend would stab him in the back like that?

That brings us back into the game, where Hayashi goes to a, yup, dejected-looking Lily, who reminds them that since they’re partners, he can come to her to talk any time. Morioka, through Hayashi, words things very carefully in telling Lily the story of how she ended up in the hospital on an IV all the way to accepting a date from a former work colleague.

The coincidences are far too many, and Sakurai is no fool; he connects the dots, flipping Hayashi’s gender to make her Morioka. Now all he needs to do is believe the deduction he’s just made and proceed from there. After all, despite thinking he’s had no contact with Morioka, all this time he’s had all the contact, and they’re already partners, for gosh sakes. It’s high time the RL players need to catch up to their MMO counterparts.

ReLIFE – 07

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While we learned a lot more about An in the last episode, it was still mostly driven by Kaizaki’s reactions to those revelations. This time, it’s Yoake who gets top-billing as protagonist-of-the-week, in an episode that takes place while he’s still supporting Subject 001.

The truth about An gave us an glimpse of the world of ReLIFE Lab that this episode expands by setting Kaizaki’s story aside and showing us how Yoake came to support him instead of An (who we see is very enthusiastic early on about the prospect of being Kaizaki’s support).

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ReLIFE Lab is portrayed as very much like any other workplace, just as Lacuna in Eternal Sunshine is very much like any other doctor’s office; a neat amalgam of the mundane and the fantastical. There’s a kind of bizarre magic in what ReLIFE does, and yet Yoake still has to deal with a board of suits concerned with their branch’s rep and interested in results.

My one gripe about this otherwise lovely episode is that we don’t really get much in the way of info about Subject 001, which seems like a cruel tease. However, ReLIFE has been so good up to this point I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt on this. Maybe they’re saving that 001 reveal for later (and 001 went to Aoba High just like Kaizaki) or maybe they’ll never reveal it.

As for Yoake and An, neither seem interested in the other romantically, but one can’t deny there’s have chemistry and warmness to their rapport. Maybe it’s just a senpai/kohai thing, or the fact that their peculiar line of work, what with all the masquerade and stalking, can be isolating. Their scene on the bridge in the rain was very nice; so many complex emotions going on.

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I also got the feeling that while An is obviously disappointed Kaizaki was transferred from her to Yoake, at least it was Yoake, whom she knows and trusts, who got him and not someone else. That, and she’ll be right there at school with both Yoake and Kaizaki.

The episode ends back in the present, with Yoake surveying all the people Kaizaki has changed as a result of gaining the confidence to act. In the past Yoake mentioned Kaizaki had the “trauma of losing someone”, and the uncertainty of knowing if he did enough when he should have led to present part-timer status.

Watching Kaizaki gradually overcome those issues through his ReLIFE is having an inspiring effect on Yoake, who is also pleased that he seems to have found a proper “distance” from Kaizaki that he lacked with 001. And so yet another ReLIFE character has been wonderfully rounded out and humanized, while the world has been further enriched without answering too many questions.

With everything going so well, I reckon it’ll be time to rock the boat again pretty soon!

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