Mars Red – 02 – Sin From Thy Lips

In the ruins of the bunker where Misaki was being held, Moriyama informs his newly-promoted boss Col. Maeda that there have been more vamp sightings in Kayabacho. Nitto News reporter Shirase Aoi is after the truth of the recent spate of “human combustion” incidents and keen for details on Misaki’s “elopement”, while yearning for her childhood friend, who never returned from battle in Siberia. She’s also miffed that Salomé has been replaced by Romeo & Juliet at the theatre.

We meet the vampiric members of Maeda’s vampire unit Code Zero—the “unranked” Yamagami, “A Class” Kurusu Shuutarou, and “mad scientist”-type Takeuchi—as well as Suwa, who seems to be human. Their first trip for intel on the vamps in Kayabacho is Tenmanya, a shop full of knicknacks, antiques, and curios. Its proprietor plays both sides of the human-vampire conflict.

Tenmanya is willing to offer some info in exchange for ruining his competition. Those rival “blood sellers” are selling a bootleg of his “product”—the vamp equivalent of the hard shit—and a vampire couple are enjoying it and themselves, though the woman seems to think her mate is drinking a bit too much.

While playing a bouquet of asters at the stigmata where Misaki burned up, Maeda encounters Aoi, and learns that one of his vampire agents, Kurusu Shuutarou, is her childhood friend reported dead. He doesn’t tell her of Shuutarou’s fate, nor why he’s leaving flowers, other than he “couldn’t keep his word.”

At midnight, all bridges and streets leading out of Kayabacho are sealed and Code Zero moves in on the vampire couple, who sense danger and aren’t prepared to go quietly. I love how simple yet frightening vampires are depicted in Mars Red, and once again the lighting and camerawork really sell their speed and ferocity that far exceeds human limits.

Unfortunately for our couple, they are cornered on a bridge, and Maeda has brought plenty of his own vampires to take them down. The male vamp chugs one more vial of the black blood and goes out in a blaze of glory, but it’s Suwa and not the Class A Kurusu who delivers the killing blow. Despite being an extremely powerful vampire, Kurusu is disgusted and even a bit scared of blood.

The “parent root” female vamp tries to flee, but she’s headed off by Maeda, who rather violently stuffs his fist through her mouth then slashes her with his sword. How he, a mere human, can do this is not clear. Is he not a mere human? Unfortunately Maeda’s aide Moriyama has to be put out of his misery. Maeda handles it, then has a solemn smoke on the bridge.

Like Tenmanya, Mars Red has the eclectic style and pleasantly musty scent of a shop with odd hours filled with neat things. I also like the connection between Aoi and Kurusu, though I wish after two episodes I could summon more than a shrug about Colonel Maeda, who’s almost too stiff and stoic for his own good.

Horimiya – 04 – Not Going Anywhere

After a particularly cute scene with StuCo member Kouno Sakura, Tooru meets up with Miyamura, who has ice cream courtesy of Hori (not present). Unfortunately, the other ice cream is melon, which Tooru can’t eat. Thankfully they run into President Sengoku, and soon the boys are comparing tongue color and length, as guys do!

When Sengoku invites the two to stop by the (blessedly air-conditioned) StuCo office, they show up with Hori and Yuki, making for a full house. They use janken to determine Horimiya should grab everyone drinks, but when they’re gone too long, Tooru gets worried about what they’re “up to”. When they’re back, there’s a misunderstanding, but Kouno is there to help set him straight…and with a towel to clean his soda, which Miyamura dropped.

Back at her house, Hori apologize for the A/C not working, but Miyamura says he doesn’t mind. When the subject of his sleeping in underwear comes up, Hori impulsively asks to see his tattoos, and he immediately strips. This throws her off, but it shouldn’t, she’s seen them before. She wonders what if anything makes him blush or get flustered, and he assures her…there’s plenty!

For one thing, his middle school friend Shindo, who he bumps into while in town. Shindo has seen Miyamura with Hori enough to assume they’re dating, something that flusters Miyamura. Then Shindo sends him a photo of him with his GF and suggests a double date…a text Hori doesn’t get to see.

What Hori does see is Miyamura getting flustered and raising the volume of his voice, but calling Shindo just to yell “PISS OFF!” As with every time she sees a new part of him, Hori is fascinated…and also a little sad that there’s still so much about him she doesn’t know. Only one thing for that, Hori: keep asking!

Next time Hori’s in town, she’s approached by Shindo, not having a clue who he is. Miyamura spots them while he’s walking with Tooru, and he immediately charges Shindo and starts punching and slapping him. The thing is, Shindo barely reacts at all to this, meaning it’s just their dynamic. Like Hori, Tooru is fascinated, and the four decide to do lunch.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to see that lunch, but we do get a glimpse into Miyamura’s middle school life, thanks to a very effective smash cut to the past. He was shunned for being gloomy and depressing by everyone except Shindo, who was super-popular with the class, and soon befriends him.

When his other mates tell him to avoid Miyamura, Shindo shuts them right down, saying they’re just mad because they think Miyamura stole him from them. Now we know: Shindo’s a decent guy, like Miyamura, only more gregarious and approachable. It’s only natural they’d be friends. I just hope we meet his girlfriend soon, because we know she’s got a keeper!

Earlier in the ep we got Hori’s Chekhov’s Cough, which she denied was a sign of a cold, because “only morons get colds in the summer.” Well, one morning she has a temperature over 100°, and who should stop her from leaving the house and put her back in bed but her awesome kid brother Souta, who is growing up fast!

Souta also contacts Miyamura, who is in Hori’s room with water, sports drink and meds when she wakes up. She has a feverish dream about her mother having to leave a previous time she was sick in bed. Her mom praised her for being so good at “toughing things out”, but what Hori didn’t tell her mom is that she didn’t want her to go.

After giving Hori a wet towel, Miyamura gets up to leave so she can change, and Hori panics, rising out of bed only to collapse from the fever. She grabs Miyamura’s arm and asks what she could never ask her mom—“Where are you going?”  Miyamura knows what she means is “Please don’t go”. Taking her hand in his, he answers: He’s not going anywhere until she doesn’t need him anymore, or is sick of his face.

He helps her back in bed, then tells her to drink some water while she’s lying on her side away from him. He also tells her he’s in love with her, and has been for a while now, and to call or text him if she needs anything. He’ll be right over. A few beats after he leaves, Hori leaps out of bed, her fever momentarily broken, thinking “WHAT did he just say?”, even though she already knows.

She wonders if she pretends not to have heard it, the two of them can “stay like this for a little while longer.” But he said it—albeit in the middle of a bunch of “boring stuff”—and she can’t un-hear it. Especially with her abandonment issues in mind, I can understand her desire to maintain the status quo. But she shouldn’t pretend out of fear of losing what she has when she could have so much more. The more she waffles, the greater the chance Miyamura will return to thinking she doesn’t have the feelings he has. It seems the ball is in her court. No pressure!

Horimiya – 03 – Just a Couple of Hand-Lovers

Throughout elementary and middle school, Miyamura exuded a gloomy aura and was always the last to be picked for partners or groups, because everyone thought he was “weird”. Yet it doesn’t seem like he stayed away from others because he wanted to be. He pierced his ears in an apparent act of coping, or possibly controlling a part of his life when so much seemed outside his control.

Miyamura learned of Hori Kyouko’s existence the same day she learned of his; the two were assigned together due to their seating positions. Yuki mentions his gloominess to Hori, but once she actually meets and talks to him, she smiles declares him perfectly normal. Now, in their current state, Miyamura is a Part of the Group, with Yuki, Tooru, and Hori all pushing their desks into his without him having to move.

They’re all relieved they’re back in the same class for the new term, and Miyamura and Tooru end up going to the roof to apparently “affirm their friendship”. Tooru repeats the same descriptor of many past classmates, when he calls Miyamura “weird”, but the key difference is that he adds “but that’s okay.” Weird isn’t bad. It’s going to be okay, Miyamura thinks. He just wishes he could’ve told his younger, lonelier self.

Hori ends up at the cafeteria earlier than expected, and ends up sitting with Remi. Remi has noticed that Miyamura is “pretty hot” and asks Hori if he’s her boyfriend. When she says no, Remi asks if she can have him. When Hori doesn’t strongly object, Remi says fine, then “he’s mine”. That’s when Hori gets legitimately upset, envisioning Remi and Miyamura laughing together. She revises her position, telling Remi in no uncertain terms that Miyamura is hers and she’ll never let her have him.

With Souta now in grade school, Miyamura and Hori see less of him, which means they’re spending more time alone together. Part of that time is spent watching cheesy horror movies that Hori clearly likes getting Miyamura flustered about. But they also just hang out, talking about anything, letting their conversations peter out and not getting hung up on the lack of stuff to say.

Miyamura notices Hori’s index finger is double-jointed, something Tooru mentioned when he and Hori were comparing hands. But while Miyamura warned Tooru that he’d better not grasp her hand if he wants to live, here she gently weaves her fingers into Miyamura’s larger ones without hesitation, and quietly says “I love you”, before revising it to say she loves his hands. He tells her the feelings mutual, and as they sit there, their hands intertwined, he quietly says he loves her too.

They both heard each other. No one else needs to hear or know. Their love is right there and plain to see. It’s all over their faces, and they just fit together so perfectly and effortlessly. But school, as Miyamura once declared, remains “hard.” It’s hard because Tooru overhears Remi talking to Sakura about how Hori blew up on her for joking about taking Miyamura.

The next day, Miyamura arrives at class with a bruised cheek from a fight. Then Tooru arrives in even worse shape; I love how he’s no match for Miyamura in a scuffle, despite him asserting Miyamura was “prettier than most girls” with his hair up. Yuki pairs off with Miyamura while Hori talks to Tooru.

It started last night when Tooru told Miyamura that Hori was in love with him. When Miyamura denies this, insisting they’re still just friends, Tooru asks him what he’d say if it were Hori himself telling her…which of course we the audience just witnessed during their movie night. Their spirited verbal sparring turns physical, and Miyamura utterly squashes Tooru.

When both Tooru and Miyamura take the blame for beating each other up, Hori is perplexed, but Yuki less-so, because Miyamura told her straight up that they were fighting about Hori, but told her not to tell Hori.

If this all sounds like some drama is starting to stir, you’re not wrong. But it’s the kind of realistic drama that tends to crop up in close friend circles at school. Tooru may not be 100% opposed to Miyamura being with Hori, but it’s more Miyamura’s equivocation about their status that stokes his frustration.

Miyamura is called “weird” many times this week, with both derision with affection. In high school, a girl and guy hanging out and occasionally muttering I love you to one another and sitting in quiet bliss together and yet not outright “dating” might count as being “weird”…but it’s also okay!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Horimiya – 02 – Your (First) Name.

The first Horimiya was so nice I watched it twice, and if anything it was even better because I didn’t have to take mental notes for a review, I just slipped into it like a warm cozy blanket and enjoyed. I enjoyed so much, in fact, at no point during the two viewings did I realize that Hori didn’t know Miyamura’s first name!

But before that, Hori and Miyamura are strolling along the shopping district when she overhears the theme song of an anime Souta likes, and starts singing along. In addition to showing off Tomatsu Haruka’s lovely singing voice, she also charms Miyamura to no end, even though she herself is embarrassed.

It’s such a gorgeous and realistic little moment in these two’s normal lives, not just because she felt so carefree with Miyamura she sang in front of him without thinking. Memorizing songs your kid siblings (or kids, if you’re a parent) is just a thing that happens IRL. You think I care about “Let it Go” enough to memorize the lyrics? Doesn’t matter, because my nieces watched Frozen literally hundreds of times!

Back to first names: Hori suddenly realizes she doesn’t know Miyamura’s when her perpetually busy mom stops by the house unannounced. Voiced by Kayano Ai in Full Mischievous Mom Mode, Hori can’t conceal how much Miyamura has been over of late since Souta is right there to fact-check. That said, Hori’s description of him as “dark villain in a detective movie”? *Chef’s kiss*

While a more structurally complex episode than the first, Horimiya hews to storytelling best practices. A “what’s your first name” scenario could be drawn out across a whole episode, but it manages to resolve things in just a third of one. Hori’s Wile E. Coyote-like attempts to learn without asking fail hilariously, particularly when she has the gall to ask Tooru, the guy she just rejected, about Miyamura!

With her mom around, Hori has a surefire way of hearing Miyamura introduce himself, but her mom seems to sense she’s trying to take a shortcut and save face, so she diabolically sends Hori off on an errand when Miyamura stops by. Finally, with Miyamura directly asking if something’s bothering her, and if it’s because she has a crush on someone, she has no choice but to come clean.

Miyamura Izumi has a good laugh at her expense. Souta calls her lame, and Miyamura has known her first name was Kyouko all along. But at the end of the segment, she’s able to cast aside the histrionics and laugh about it with them. The bit doesn’t go on any longer than it needs to, and now Hori has a piece of paper with Miyamura’s name, so she has no excuse to forget it!

The next segment introduces three new classmates, bringing the total to seven. All three are in the Student Council, and include President, Top-Ranked student, and Hori’s childhood friend Sengoku Kakeru, his gorgeous girlfriend/StuCo mascot Ayasaki Remi (M · A · O), and the VP, Kouno Sakura.

The StuCo and Kakeru in particular seem to have no qualms pushing huge heaps of StuCo paperwork on Hori, despite her not being a member. Worse still, much of the work she’s tasked with doing should be Remi’s responsibility. Hori’s friends can tell all the extra work is weighing on her, but she seems stubbornly determined—and oddly obligated—to do it anyway.

Later that afternoon, while Miyamura is minding his own business in the hall, thinking about whether to bake Hori a cake to cheer her up, Remi races past and barrels into him, spilling a huge box of papers everywhere. Then Remi has the temerity to ask him to watch where he’s going. Dude was stationary, kid! When he notices she left a stack of papers behind, she says it’s cool to just toss them.

The next day, Miyamura arrives to find a potential dust-up in the hallway, as Kakeru accuses Hori of losing track of the budget papers. She rightfully pleads innocence, and while Kakeru admits both sides share some responsibility, he still demands an apology. Hori seems on the verge of tears as the crowd around them prepares to make their own conclusions.

From then, it’s Miyamura to the rescue, handing his bag and glasses to Tooru for safekeeping, pushing through the crush, and delivering a swift headbutt to Kakeru, then producing the missing budget papers. Remi is revealed as the party responsible for their being misplaced, and turns on the waterworks.

But like Miyamura lying to Tooru last week, or the first-name thing this week, this is just another thing, and all parties are able move past it. The StuCo bow in apologetic unison, Yuki gives Hori a relieved hug, and Hori thanks her pierced knight in tattooed armor.

As for why he headbutted Kakeru, well…the guy was simply pissing him off. Me too, Miyamura! But we also learn the reason why Kakeru and Hori’s dynamic is the way it is. It reveals that ever since they were little tykes and through grade and middle school, Hori consistently bullied and messed with Kakeru.

I for one am glad Kakeru isn’t just a one-dimensional bad guy, but something more nuanced, and with reason and history behind his manner. He vowed to Hori that he’d make something of himself in high school and she’d no longer be able to mess with him, and so he has; he’s the academic top dog and loved by virtually everyone.

Miyamura is a new wrinkle in their long-standing relationship, and even though Miyamura has no intention of delivering any further headbutting, Kakeru still shrinks into a anxious ball when Miyamura greets him in the morning. Maybe Kakeru, like his childhood friend, also sees the detective movie villain in him!

The third and final segment (lotta bang for the buck this week!) could also have been stretched into an entire episode, but Horimiya’s writing is tight and efficient enough that it’s able to basically tell three episodes worth of story in one. This one focuses on the fact Hori’s birthday is coming up, concurrent with spring break.

Souta asks Hori if Miyamura (whom he thinks of as a brother now) will be over every day; Hori gently warns her little bro that the day may come when Miyamura won’t come over anymore. That could be for a variety of reasons, from the two of them drifting apart, to him finding a girl(or boy)friend, to them simply graduating and ending up in different places afterwards.

The bottom line is, Hori is as sad as Souta about the prospect of Miyamura not coming around anymore. Fortunately, that prospect should be a ways off, if it ever comes. Miyamura comes by with a cake (natch) as well as a very personalized and thoughful gift: a CD of “all the popular music young people like right now” (I love how she phrases it as if she were some old lady).

Between school, housework, and caring for Souta, Hori confessed to have fallen behind on musical trends. She told Miyamura this back when she was singing the anime theme. He not only remembered, but got her exactly what she wanted. She’s amazed he did this, but she shouldn’t be. As Souta tells her earlier, exhibiting quite the precociousness, she should be more honest with herself.

Both express their happiness in that moment with wide but also tentative smiles, as they both look outside the window and watch the sakura petals falling. If it’s Hori’s birthday, it means spring break is almost over, and they’ll be in their third and final year of high school soon.

For such an ostensibly jam-packed episode, the fact this moment is given such time to breathe and fill the space says a lot about the deftness of Horimiya’s direction. It also says a lot about the writing in terms of what isn’t said in this closing scene, simply letting the joy of being together in the present become tempered by the uncertainty of future. Frankly, Miyamura and Hori should stop worrying so much about the future and try to enjoy life in the present!

Yes, it’s something to think about, but it cannot dominate their thoughts, nor always mar otherwise happy times. Heck, the fact they’re so apprehensive about a future in which they’re not together should be an obvious sign of their feelings for one another. If they’re so concerned about time, then they should get a move on with acknowledging those feelings and making them known to one another.

Horimiya – 01 (First Impressions) – Not Just Being Nice

What if there was a rom-com airing concurrently with Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki that dispenses with game metaphors and excessively stylized conceits, and was instead just the simple story of two seemingly different but fundamentally decent classmates meeting outside of school and organically becoming fond of each other’s company?

That, friends, is Horimiya, AKA Hori-san to Miyamura-kun, and I won’t mince words: I found it excellent. It also reminded me of the very first rom-com anime I ever watched, Gainax’s 1997 Kare Kano…not a bad thing at all. It is simply, earnestly written, beautifully animated, and just all around a sweet ol’ time. It’s shows like this that are why I watch anime.

The main couple consists of the popular Hori Kyouko and the class gloomlord Miyamura Izumi. Hori (Tomatsu Haruka) is too busy taking care of her little brother Souta and doing housework in her busy parent/s’ absence to hang out much with her friends, many of whom would be surprised by her utilitarian “domestic mode”.

However, they’d be even more surprised to learn that outside of school, Miyamura (Uchiyama Kouki) the lowly caterpillar becomes a beautiful pierced moth with frontman hair. Hori learns this when he helps Souta up after chasing a dog and falling. She also notices Miyamura’s other attractive features he hid so well at school.

The two have an almost immediate, wonderful, easy chemistry, and it’s so refreshing not to have to deal with either of them being in denial about this. Miyamura is great with Souta (who calls him “that cool dude”), and while Hori is initially a little freaked out to learn he’s her classmate, she can’t exactly complain about his “alter-ego” since she has one too.

Her initial impressions were way off the mark, and she quickly adjusts to who he really is: someone either so bold or so stupid he’ll lift his shirt up and show her his tats while she’s cooking dinner! They go with it, both happy they and only they get to see the other, realer side of one another—warts and all.

What’s also nice about Horimiya is how they don’t avoid each other at school, but just naturally start spending more time off to the side chatting with each other, without any thought to how it might look to their classmates. One of them, the purple-haired Yuki, has a crush on Hori, and is threatened by Miyamura’s sudden closeness with her.

How is that resolved? By Yuki approaching Miyamura, asking him about it, and being given the okay to ask Hori out at his leisure. Miyamura tells Yuki not to worry about him since he and Hori aren’t a “good match” and Hori is “just being nice” to him. The day Yuki decides to ask her out, Hori is out of the loop and not sure why Miyamura tries to separate from his usual spot at her side.

Miyamura picks Souta up from school so Hori can stay behind, and when she comes home, she wants to speak to Miyamura at once. Those things Miyamura said to Yuki about being a bad match and her only being nice? Yeah, those were really hurtful to her, and she tearfully demands to know if he really meant them.

Miyamura tells her he didn’t, but assumed he was dragging down her school rep with his gloomy boring aura, and so said what he thought Yuki wanted to hear. And that’s where he erred: making assumptions, just as she had about him before getting to know him. She tells him never to say such crap again, adding as she asks him who would wake her up when she fell asleep during a movie or eat his portion of dinner if he didn’t come around anymore?

Her flaring temper turns to actual pyrotechnics, but the sentiments behind them are clear and lovely: she’s become accustomed to their relationship and doesn’t want it to change anytime soon. Also, Yuki gets turned down, but turns to Miyamura for a shoulder to cry on. Just like that, he’s made another friend, but it will be hard to match the beautiful thing he and Hori have, which we’ll have the honor and pleasure of watching.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 12 (Fin) – The Real Game Begins

The entirety of Takagi 2‘s finale is devoted to the summer festival, as it should be. We start with Nishikata waiting nervously for Takagi, his hands already sweating with anticipation. She arrives positively resplendent in a yukata, nearly bowling him over with her beauty.

As they walk to the festival together, little kids and old people alike see them for what they are: a couple on a date. Nishikata thinks he can win a game in which no adults say they’re on a date, but he has to rely on semantics, and ultimately loses at the candy apple stand.

As the other members of the cast enjoy the festival, Nishikata tries to distract from the fact he’s on a date with Takagi by engaging in one competition after the other, from goldfish scooping to ring toss. He loses at all of them, but Takagi gives him an out: if he does “date stuff” with her, he’ll automatically win.

For once, Nishikata doesn’t want to win, or rather the little timid voice inside him doesn’t want him to fully open himself to the experience. He won’t feed Takagi, but he does give her the gift of a cute hairpin, eschewing the childish toys also available to choose.

On two notable occasions, the large crowds separate Takagi and Nishikata. The first time, he’s able to locate her quickly, but the second almost spells disaster, as they can’t find each other when the fireworks begin. Thankfully, Nishikata’s mate Kimura, with the assist of the episode, directing Nishikata to Takagi’s location atop the shrine steps.

Takagi has to endure the bulk of fireworks all alone, and her face has never been more morose…but when she spots Nishikata running up the steps her face brightens, and meets him halfway down the steps. Sadly, the fireworks end just as they reunite.

Far more importantly to Takagi, Nishikata finally takes her hand into his, unbidden, calmly explaining how it would suck if they got separated, not to mention the steps can be perilous.

DAWWWWWWWWWW

Takagi’s reaction above tells you all you need to know about how much this means to her. Just one episode after he finally asked her out, he mustered the courage to take her hand, and even if it was the practical move, it shows HUGE growth on his part to actually, you know, make it.

They descend the steps hand-in-hand and later we find them playing with sparklers on the beach; unassailably a date thing. Takagi tells him that throughout all the “losses” he’s endured, he’s never really lost, because, well, he has her. Her attention, her affection, her eyes on him.

No matter how you slice it, Nishikata is a winner. And in what I dearly hope will be a third season of this beautiful, uplifting show, perhaps he’ll keep gaining confidence, shaking off his childish hang-ups, and making the right moves. There’s a lot of game left to be played. But if this is the ending to this particular story, I’m glad it ended on a happy note.

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!

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! – OVA

Takanashi Rikka, Togashi Yuuta

With Christmas approaching, the club agrees to throw a party. The school is closed, so Dekomori hosts everyone at her enormous mansion. While playing cards Dekomori and Rikka get drunk off of alcoholic pastries, briefly loosening their tongues about their feelings towards Shinka and Yuuta, respectively. Yuuta carries her home, but she feels better on the train and they go on a Christmas cruise on a sightseeing boat. When the time comes to speak up, they agree to keep things the way they are for now and everything will work out. Dekomori and the others join them on the boat.

This was a nice little nugget of Chu2Koiness to bridge the gap between last fall and the forthcoming second season, one that we said at the end of the first we hope will further flesh out Yuuta and Rikka’s relationship. They don’t really make any significant progress towards officially becoming a couple, such a major development, if it occurs, will occur next season. Their interactions here underline the fact that there’s no rush, but if they’re still just tenderly holding pinkies deep into the second season, we’ll be disappointed. Even Kuroneko and Kyousuke became an official couple, for crying out loud!

Speaking of tiresome, Dekomori Sanae should really be intolerable to us, but we get a kick out of Uesaka Sumire’s very playful and vibrant manner of speaking. We also get an awesome quasi-battle with an unarmed Yuuta versus a very tipsy Rikka and Sanae totally going all out with the weaponry. Along with the lovely Yuuta/Rikka chemistry, these battles were one of our favorite things about the series, and hope to see more of them next season. We also like Shinka helping Rikka out with trying to get closer to Yuuta, as Rdikka is still new to this kinda thing.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)