More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 06 – Hearts Racing Together

One morning, Akari is acting like a caring, loving wife, the kind that is again propelling her and Jirou into the top of the practical rankings (which are a thing I find myself caring less and less about as the show goes on). The only thing that gives Jirou pause is the fact that Akari keeps calling him by his last name, even seemingly accentuating the “Yakuin”.

Jirou doesn’t know why, but it bothers him, and he even googles “why is a girlfriend suddenly calling you by your last name”. Seems like a step backwards, or some kind of message, right? Then Jirou and Sadaharu happen to witness Hamano Mei rejecting female kohai who just confessed her love for her.

Aside from it being a magnificently gay scene I was waiting for, Mei demonstrates that she’s very good at the gentle turn-down, and I have no reason to doubt she truly is happy that this girl fell for her, even if she can’t return the feelings. Mei also bears part of the burden for not “being mindful enough to notice” the girl’s feelings, then indulges her with a warm embrace and calls her by her first name.

Jirou wants to notice what’s causing Akari to use his last name, so that already shows he’s being mindful. He’s a good kid, thinking about how she feels! When he’s about to shower, Akari barges in with the rankings on her phone: they’re now in eighth place, and she hugs him while he’s shirtless, which is a first.

Later, she helps him dry his hair—which he washed with a shampoo she chose for both of them. When she hits the hair dryer, Jirou says her first name, then again. The third time he says it is when she switches it off, and she hears it, and calls him Jirou in turn. Now he gets it: she simply wanted him to call her Akari first. She says its for the benefit of their artificial marriage, but it’s clear him calling her Akari makes her blush every time.

While Jirou figured out this little mini-mystery of how he and Akari address one another, he’s still largely in the dark about Shiori’s true feelings. In that regard, his lack of mindfulness stems from her years-old friendzoning of him, which he felt at the time meant that was that and there were lines beyond childhood friendship she’d rather not cross.

But that was then, and Shiori regretted it then and has yet to resolve matters. In this, her best friend Mei most likely subordinated her own unrequited romantic feelings for Shiori in order to ensure she’s happy, by doing everything possible to bring her and Jirou together. She makes it clear if Shiori isn’t more aggressive in letting Jirou know her feelings, Akari (or some other girl) will beat her to the punch.

When Shiori gets hit in the head by an errant football, Mei sends her to the nurses office and promises to send Jirou there, where it’s clear she wants Shiori to do what she couldn’t do during their shared classroom duties. When Jirou hesitates, Mei verbally kicks him in the butt to get in there and see Shiori already.

But while Mei can’t understand why her Shiori loves a “coward” like Jirou, she’s missing the fact that Shiori’s been a coward too! Coward is probably too strong a term; more like stubborn in their shared belief that the other isn’t interested despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

When Jirou visits the nurse’s office to see Shiori, the two find themselves all alone in the dark. They exchange some awkward small talk, Jirou notices that Minami brought her a sandwich and sports drink before he did (though Mei gave him his). Shiori mentions how well Jirou and Akari are doing, he says they still fight a lot, and Shiori remarks how she’d like to see Jirou angry sometime. That is to say, she wants to know more about him beyond the childhood friend.

She also makes it clear when Jirou brings up making romantic progress that she and Minami have done no such thing, and that furthermore, even if it was with someone she liked, she’d worry about being too nervous and inexperienced. This must feel to Jirou like a comfortable mirror.

Shiori makes another blunder by saying she wants to “practice” kissing with Jirou, which suggests she’d rather kiss someone else “for real”, but Jirou, who had just gotten a talking-to from Mei to “go for it”, agrees and leans in to kiss Shiori.

At the very last second Shiori hesitates again, which happens before Akari’s gyaru-friend Sachi comes in to skip class, hears the bed creaking, and sees boy’s and girl’s shoes through the gap in the curtain. Sachi is scandalized and makes a quick exit, but her entrance caused Jirou to slip and fall … right onto Shiori and her lips.

Accident or not, the two have finally kissed, and it was so unexpected and so … so much for both of them they basically short-circuit in unison and agree to part ways for the time being. I feel so bad for both Mei and Akari, as these two are—and I can’t stress this enough—the fucking worst.

I mean everyone has their pace that they must follow (I think about Chuu2Koi handled this quite well). But you don’t have to jump each other’s bones; you can use their words and clear all this up! Say you like him! Say you like her! Boom! But they don’t.

All throughout this time, Akari has been trying to get ahold of Jirou, but he’s ignored her last four texts. Then Sachi shows up and tells her what went down in the nurse’s office, and right after hearing this Akari gets a text from Jirou saying he was in the nurse’s office. Naturally, her thoughts go straight to Shiori.

I continue to feel so bad for Akari. I’m sure Minami is a nice guy, but she doesn’t really know him. She does know Jirou a lot more, and is developing feelings for him that are quickly replacing the more shallow attraction nad idolization for Minami. Also, I doubt Minami is any more interested in her than he is Shiori.

And hey, what do you know, Akari is so preoccupied with Jirou that she doesn’t even notice Minami served her that drink! I am HERE for the Minami erasure. We’re in episode six. If we go another six without him so much as uttering a line, I’ll be perfectly content.

What we have here, then, is a love triangle. And with her assumption Jirou went and did something with Shiori in the nurse’s office, Akari is understandably lonely and depressed. It doesn’t help matters that her gyaru-friends stand her up at the café, though Minami gives her some free extra whipped cream and a note to cheer her up (though again, you get the impression he’d do this with anyone).

When she comes home late, Jirou is passed out on the couch. Akari sees the chocolates and deduces he waited for her. She doesn’t check her phone and see the text warning that the chocolates contained whiskey. She does unfold the couch (which of course becomes a bed), disrobe and curl up next to the dozing Jirou, asking him if this is what he did with Shiori, or did they take things even further.

What’s so heartbreaking is that Akari isn’t mad that Jirou might’ve slept with Shiori. After all, who wouldn’t want to have their first time be with someone so clearly important to them? Even more heartbreaking? Lines like “Did you go off and become an adult without me?” and “Don’t leave me behind,” and “I’ll cheer on in your love … but just for now, while I’m your wife, could you wait?” Just one dagger after the other.

Jirou regains consciousness from his inadvertent choco-bender very confused Akari is sleeping beside him in her underwear. When he asks what happened, Akari teases him for forgetting what happened … for forgetting what he did to her. She then asks “was last night your first time?” to which he answers yes, because he assumes she means the two of them.

When he proceeds to apologize if he didn’t perform to her standards and such, she admits she was lying, they didn’t do it. When Jirou is a bit too emphatic in his relief, since it means he’s still a virgin, Akari is miffed. I’m not sure he meant to imply he’s glad he didn’t lose it to her because he’d rather lose it to Shiori (I think he’s just glad he didn’t pop his cherry and not remember it)—but that’s how she interprets it.

It sucks that this is how the episode, and the first half of the season, wraps up: with another misunderstanding. But even if Jirou picks up on what Akari is mad and is able to smooth things over, the underlying triangle remains. While Shiori did stop them from kissing for real, they did lock lips, and once she and Jirou fully process that, that dance will continue. And this conflict will surely drive the second half.

Could Akari be clearer about how she’s acting toward Jirou is less about being a great pretend wife for the sake of getting Minami and more about legitimate feelings for him? Sure! Could Shiori, for the benefit of both Akari and the long-suffering Mei, please kindly shit or get off the pot? Perhaps! But Jirou can also keep being as mindful as he can be. As long as he’s wracking his brain, there’s potential for progress on all fronts. Whatever happens, I’m loving these characters, and this show.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 05 – Sharing fabric softener

Akari’s crush continues to be supplanted by feelings for the mock husband right in front of her, and throughout the episode she expresses this though lots of teasing and physical contact, starting with a loving wife’s hug before Jirou heads off for school duties. Little does he know that Shiori has arranged to swap duties with her sporty pianist wife Hamano Mei so she can get some quality time with Jirou.

Before the arrangement, Mei is trying to get Shiori to do what needs to be done to get the man she wants—which may yet involve a giant Acme-brand mallet with which to smack him over the head. Shiori says “Jirou doesn’t think of me that way” but Mei knows better; Shiori just needs to make her feelings plain and obvious before Akari snatches him up. Akari’s galfriends only tease her about the prospect of falling for Jirou, but they’re on the right track!

Despite my increasing affinity for Akari and Akari x Jirou, being a sucker for childhood friends I relished the opportunity for Shiori and Jirou to hang out together without interruptions from Akari, Minami, or Sadaharu (who sits this episode out; I don’t mind the guy but appreciated a break from him).

The results are predictable: having class duties together reminds them of when they had them in middle school, and the two settle into that warm, happy nostalgia and familiarity. But when it comes time to leave the safety of the past and try to grasp the future with a solicited kiss, Akari thinks he’s dreaming, while Shiori withdraws at the last moment and must beat the shit out of the erasers in frustration with herself.

Unfortunately, this leaves Jirou with the same impression as the start of the day: that while there are occasional signs here and there, Shiori doesn’t like him “that way”. That leaves him gloomy on the balcony an otherwise dazzlingly starry night, and Akari joins him with mugs of hot milk in a genuinely heartwarming gesture of trying to cheer him up.

That inherent kindness in Akari’s character is at odds with a deep resentment that he’s feeling so down over another girl, which of course reflects how he feels whenever she gets riled up about Minami. Akari decides to press the teasing by insisting he start calling her by her name, and is shocked when he does it immediately, while explaining why he had trouble before.

Akari gets much more than she bargained for here, and has to retreat before Jirou sees her beet-red face and ears. Gathering her patio door curtain around her, she curses these confusing feelings. To this point she’s been in love with the idea of Minami, but that idea is losing ground to the reality of Jirou.

When their teacher announces that practical couples’ scores will be combined and everaged together, Jirou is anxious, as he’s not sure the extent of Akari’s academic prowess. But rather than simply presume she’s a dunce, he asks her about it, and her tone and body language make it clear she’s far from confident about it.

He asks her to cancel her karaoke plans so they can study together, but she says it’s “not so easy” to break said plans because she was invited by other guys, as opposed to her galfriends. To this, Akari says “I’m asking for you too here,” and she relents, but believes he’s only being this “desperate” for Shiori’s sake. Meanwhile, Mei continues to prove that she may just be the most deserving of Shiori’s hand in marriage. If nothing else, she’s trying her best to make Shiori happy and successful in love.

Jirou finds that while Akari picks things up fast, she hates the fundamental idea of studying. Her frustration from the assumption he’s only doing this for him and Shiori leads her to up her teasing and flirting game considerably, cozying up to Jirou and saying he can “do whatever he wants”.

Jirou averts his gaze, and ends up seeing that Akari figured did a challenging math problem correctly. The rest of the study session progresses and their couple score continues to go up. When they’re done, Akari isn’t ready to eat dinner yet, and would rather get Jirou to admit she makes his heart race.

She does this by jumping into his lap, but she grows more frustrated when he tries to ignore her, so she turns around so they’re front-to-front, and tells him he can look at her if he wants. When he still won’t, she grabs him even tighter, and he ends up flipping them over so she’s on her back.

At this point the two are in dangerous territory, and Akari can hear his heart pounding now. It’s here where Jirou starts to let his hormones take over, caressing her cheek. Akari says he can’t once, then twice, but then takes hold of his shoulder to pull him nearer, and closes her eyes to prepare for a kiss …

I knew amorous congress was going to be interrupted by something, be it doorbell, phone, or Sadaharu. This time, it’s Jirou’s nose, which suddenly starts bleeding. Though Jirou thanks his nose profusely for stopping him from doing something he’d regret. Once the bleeding is stemmed by a tissue, the two fold laundry together—the hot-and-heaviness replaced by a picture of domestic bliss.

Akari laughs at Jirou for getting a bloody nose in such a situation, but Jirou in turn asks her what is up with her pestering him so heavily all night. She brings up how she’s frustrated by how desperately he’s trying to prevent Shiori from leaving him behind. He, in turn, tells her he’s not just doing it for him and Shiori, but her and Minami, and further tells her he’s sure she’d reach A-rank with anyone, not just him. He simply hoped that after she’d gained so many points for them, he’d try to contribute by helping with her studies.

Jirou doesn’t know just how happy it makes Akari to hear that, because as far as he’s concerned she doesn’t feel anything serious for him, and her amorous actions have only been to tease him. But Akari is feeling less grateful that he’s doing this for her and Minami when it’s currently the two of them together that makes her heart race for real. She thinks about a future where they switch partners, and their clothes no longer smell like the same fabric softener, and … it’s not necessarily something she wants.

Fuukoi continues to do tremendous character work in the midst of what will always be a silly and contrived premise, and its deft “couch time” animation and Akari’s facial expressions in general continue to impress. There’s still a lot of confusion and awkwardness from all parties, but Shiori is gradually fumbling her way closer to Jirou, while dangerous couch session Akari’s true feelings may be coming into better focus.

Jirou’s self-loathing-fueled obliviousness can’t hold out forever. If it isn’t already, his confidence in Shiori being his one and only will surely start taking the same dents as Akari’s in Minami being hers.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 04 – Shoulder to cry on

During P.E. class when Minami is playing basketball and generally looking like a higher form of life, both Akari and Jirou hear from their friend(s) that he and Shiori are considering staying with one another as a marriage practical couple despite making A-rank.

This news obviously puts a wrench in Akari and Jirou’s plan, leaving both feeling blue. Jirou, knowing how much Akari likes Minami, imagines he’s in a fantasy video game and Minami ends up beating the final boss and winning the hearts of both heroines.

When Jirou and Shiori cross paths, to Jirou’s credit he doesn’t pretend something isn’t bothering him, and Shiori’s known him long enough to know that something is. She says she’s not sure yet whether she and Minami are extending their time together, so Jirou starts to try to tell her he’ll work hard to attain A-rank so that they can be paired together.

Meanwhile, Akari gets cleanup duty for chatting during P.E., and ends up crossing paths with Minami. His sudden presence in the storage room startles her, and she bumps into a shelf, causing a box to start to fall. Minami rushes towards her and starts to fall, leaving them face-to-face.

Akari asks Minami what Jirou asked Shiori, and his answer is yes, he’ll stay by Shiori’s side “forever” if that’s what she wants. Throughout the whole exchange but unbeknownst to Minami, Akari’s heart is beating like a hummingbird, and when she hears what sounds like a rejection from his lips, she starts to cry. Then Minami puts his hand on her chin…

I say Jirou started to tell Shiori he wanted to pair with her, because he isn’t able to get the words out. I would have hoped Shiori would have gotten the gist but she apparently doesn’t when Jirou’s friend Kamo interrupts, having seen Akari and Minami in the storage room together.

But before Kamo can say anything, Minami and Akari exit the school, and Jirou senses a strange atmosphere. Minami and Shiori head home together chatting spiritedly about nothing in particular, while Akari acts awkward and distant towards Jirou and heads off on her own.

He later learns that Akari ditched class, and Kamo tells him he witnessed “kissing going on” between Minami and Akari. He shrugs it off as having nothing to do with him, but it’s clear that he has conflicting feelings about it, what with he and Akari getting along so well of late.

When he comes home, Akari is lying on the couch on her phone, looking morose. He sits down beside her, sarcastically apologizes for not being Minami, and she asks him upfront why he’d bring him up. That’s when, again, to his credit, Jirou doesn’t beat around the bush, but says what he heard: that she was kissing Minami after P.E.

Akari laughs it off, as in reality he was just checking her eye for dust; Kamo saw what he wanted to saw from the angle he had. Akari thinks it’s “hilarious” that Jirou thought a misunderstanding from “straight out of a manga” took place. But Jirou tells her he was ready to root for her, and it’s only fair to expect her to get some kind of return considering how hard she’s been working to get Minami to look her way.

At this, Akari’s mask of sarcasm drops, and bitter tears of frustration start to fall. Jirou is right in theory, but the reality is Minami doesn’t see her that way, and more and more seems to be content to be with Shiori, even beyond the marriage practical situation. When she realizes she’s crying in front of Jirou, she tells him to look away, and he does … kinda. He pulls her into an embrace so that his head is next to hers.

In this way, he’s technically “looking away”, but he’s also there for her, in a moment when she needs someone to be there. She needs to have a good cry without the pressure of having to hold it in to keep up appearances. At this point, Jirou knows who Watanabe Akari is more than anyone else at school, Minami included. And Akari, no doubt having that feeling of being safe and secure in Jirou’s arms, puts her arm around him and cries it out.

After this cathartic moment, Jirou feels self-conscious for overreaching, literally and figuratively, but he did the right thing, as evidenced by Akari’s mood after a cleansing shower. First, she borrows one of his t-shirts, resulting in the deceptively powerful boyfriend shirt scenario. Then she plops right down beside him, leans on him, and has some ice cream as she watches TV.

When he insists he’s no longer overwhelmed by situations like this, she puts her ear to his chest and calls him a liar, as his heart is racing. Of course, since she was worried Minami could hear her beating heart in the storage room, she can relate, which is why she’s so comfortable around Jirou now.

She also hastens to mention that she’s not so “easy” that she’d kiss Minami on a whim, and in any case, she says to him for the first time that her first kiss ever was with Jirou. Jirou sits there unresponsive as she shakes him and urges him to answer for that kiss, and as he does, he admits in his thoughts how happy he feels.

Perhaps for the first time, he’s not thinking about losing Shiori to Minami, or Akari preferring Minami to him. He and and Akari are simply sitting together on their couch, enjoying each other’s company; a cozy, caring family of two. It’s something I could honestly watch all day.

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