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?

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 – 19 – Tabasco In The Orange Juice

From Iroha slapping her brother with a wet towel when he accuses her geeky boyfriend of dragging her down to his level, to Hikari showing that he’s grown into a far better boyfriend than Iroha’s boyfriend could imagine, I loved every minute of this episode.

It was full of instances of friends leaning on one another in times of need, quickly sorting out misunderstandings, and, of course, Ishino gettin’ some legit attention from a guy other than Takanashi! The only major mark against this episode is that there’s no Ayado, but that allows the episode to maximize its time with everyone else.

First, a brief rift between Itou and Hikari emerges when Itou asks Takanashi for advice on how to proceed with Ayado. Hikari knows he’s not the one to go to for advice of that nature, but is still embarrassed enough to avoid Itou, until Itou himself calls him out and they sort it out together.

Itou assures him every couple goes at its own pace, and that if Hikari doesn’t even intend to go all the way with Iroha (as Itou suspects he will with Ayado, very soon), Itou respects and will support him. It’s some very mature conversation between best mates, clarifying that this isn’t a race!

Speaking of early bloomers, Kaoru comes to Takanashi’s house to apologize for keeping Anzu out late, but manages to pierce Takanashi’s innate distrust and loathing for All Things Tsutsui with a heartfelt monologue about why he loves Anzu and wants to help her big brother keep her safe. Still, Takanashi is frustrated enough with Kaoru’s shrewdness that he decides to take it out on Hikari, who after all only wants some of the same advice as Itou.

While heading back downstairs from the roof, Takanashi very clearly tries to get the attention of Ishino, and ask her if she’s free for…something. But his friend, who met Ishino at the maid cafe, asks her out first, having already gotten a half-hearted okay from Takanashi to pursue her. It’s clear despite his aloof attitude, Takanashi doesn’t like his friend spending all this time with Ishino. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve had until you’ve lost it!

Hikari and Ishino have been just humming along, but with another three-day weekend coming up Iroha wants to go on a trip…an overnight trip—to eat and see the sights in another town. But Hikari is overwhelmed by the possibility that they may end up doing it, and gets so stuck in his head he appears outwardly opposed to and stressed out about going on the trip, and Iroha drops the issue and heads home.

For her part, Ishino told Hikari before he met with Iroha to just get fucking laid already…though at the same time no one reinforces Hikari’s own insecurities and sense of non-worth than Ishino, even though she’s just messing around.

But Ishino now finds herself in a bit of a love triangle. I doubt this new guy (I didn’t even hear his name) is anything other than a means to show Takanashi that he actually does requite Ishino’s feelings, at least to some degree, whether it’s true love or he’s simply pleasantly accustomed to having her around.

Ishino assumes the worst; that he’s some kind of playboy just trying to get in her pants. I’m not 100% convinced that’s not the case either. Good luck, Ishino! As for Takanashi, he should take after his friends and reconcile his feelings.

Hikari, good man that he is, doesn’t spend days worrying about what a shit he is, and corrects himself almost immediately, actually taking the time to look at the travel books Iroha marked, then running after her, embracing her from behind, and agreeing that it will be a fun time. He just had to get out of his own head, and put himself in her shoes: she must have been excited to tell him about the trip, and was looking forward to it since the last three-day weekend.

Unfortunately, due to Iroha’s poor test scores, she has to take remedial classes over the weekend, but Hikari assures her they’ll go the next time. Here’s hoping there is one—it would be a great step forward for their relationship.

Boogiepop wa Warawanai – 03 – A Little Bit More Good than Evil

All of the various knots Boogiepop tied the first two eps are laid bare this week and then gradually unraveled, bringing the three-part arc to a satisfying conclusion. It starts with Tanaka Shirou searching for his girlfriend Kamikishiro, unaware she’s already dead. Class Rep Niitoki Kei joins him in the search, as does Saotome Masami.

Of course, we know Saotome is up to no good, and his true goal is to draw out both Echoes and Kirima Nagi. And his plan works…kinda: when they send a PA message summoning Nagi to the broadcast room, she shoes up, but not before cutting the lights, taking all three of them down, and tying them up before presenting them to Echoes to determine if any of them are Manticore.

When Nagi frees the three, Kei wants to know what’s going on, but Nagi doesn’t want to involve them, as they’re “too normal” for what they’re up against. This rankles Saotome, still sore over Nagi rejecting him for the same reason. He reveals his treachery by stabbing Echoes with a pen loaded with poison that will keep him from regenerating, just when Manticore arrives.

He also slits Nagi’s throat, an event that was a horrifying to behold in the moment, even if I knew there were supernatural means of bringing her back. Echoes escapes to the roof with Nagi, and Manticore follows, while Tanaka runs away screaming, leaving Kei alone with Saotome, who liked how it felt killing Nagi and wouldn’t mind doing it again.

Echoes and Manticore engage in a kind of aerial parkour duel, the animation for which is crude, but effective. Manticore eventually bests Echoes, slamming him to the ground where Saotome and Kei are. This is where Manticore explains all the horrible things she’s going to do, including taking Nagi’s form and turning Kei into a soulless slave.

But as Kei holds him upright, Echoes has other ideas. He transforms himself into data and shoots himself into space. Saotome pushes Manticore out of the way, but gets vaporized himself. Denied her prey Manticore starts to go a bit loopy, and prepares to kill Kei in her rage, but her hand is stayed—nay, her whole left arm cleaved off—by none other than Boogiepop, who has come to the rescue.

After suspending Manticore with magical threads, Tanaka makes a triumphant return, shooting an arrow through Manticore’s head, killing her and ending the threat. Turns out his act of cowardice was just that—an act; Boogiepop told him earlier that the opportunity to “shoot through the truth” would come if he wished to…and he decided to do so. In this case, to avenge his beloved and defeat the demon that claimed her.

Turns out in his brief time with the bloodied Nagi, Echoes gave her a little of his life force, allowing her to heal with no ill effects (which is why Manticore thought he was a bit too weak, even with the poison). Tanaka thanks Nagi and Kei for their help on Kamikishiro’s behalf. Boogiepop further explains that Echoes was sent to judge whether humanity was worth living; thanks to Kamikishiro, with assists by Tanaka, Nagi, and Kei, the verdict was favorable.

Kei also wants to thank Boogiepop, but with the threat lifted, Boogiepop is gone. Still, Nagi suggests she thank the next best thing: Miyashita Touka, despite Touka having no idea what happened. This brings us full circle to the end of the first episode, when Nagi and Kei encounter Touka and Kensuke walking home. All in all, I really enjoyed this intricate little mechanism, and I’m looking forward to the next crisis that will necessitate Boogiepop’s return.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 12 – Trying Your Best ‘Till You Disappear

Sakuta tells Mai and Nodoka the story of Kaede he’s never told anyone, but now that Kaede is making friends and thinking about going back to school, he can’t hold it off. It’s also the story of himself and the rest of his family. When Kaede suddenly enters a dissociative state as a result of online abuse, she loses her memories and becomes the “Kaede” we know.

Other than her outward appearance, everything about her is different, to the point she could have switched personalities with someone the way Mai and Nodoka did. She walks different, talks different, eats different. Kaede’s Mon can’t deal, and due in part to being a big brother who is utterly powerless to stop whatever Kaede’s going through, the slash marks on his chest appear one night.

The doctors believe they’re self-inflicted, as “Adolescence Syndrome” isn’t a theory they’d subscribe to. But Sakuta gets sick of the hospital and sneaks out, finds himself on the beach, and meets his “first crush”, Shouko. Shouko tells him “life is here for us to be kinder”, and she strives every day to become a little kinder than she was the day before.

Sakuta adopts that credo; one could say it’s all thanks to Shouko that he’s able to do any of the stuff he does to help his friends later on. But here, before he meets Nodoka or Tomoe or Mai, we see that the first person he helped was Kaede. He helped her simply by acknowledging that she was Kaede. She didn’t have to be the old Kaede. He was the first and only one to accept her, not as an anomaly, but a person.

Back in the present, where Kaede is on the cusp of “leaving the nest”, Sakuta gives her a book the old Kaede apparently lent to her friend. In it is a note expressing that friend’s wish to be friends with “Kae-chan” again. Tears well up, and Kaede suddenly faints.

She wakes up in the hospital, none the worse for wear, but the doctors believe that her dissociative state may be wearing off. The note was apparently the trigger. The Kaede we’ve known all this time is still there, but she overhears Sakuta reporting to Mai that he doesn’t know how long she has.

Kaede accelerates her plans to go to school, even risking her well-being to do so (the dark red bruises appear when she gets overly stressed, and rushing things when it comes to going back to school is definitely stressful. Sakuta, hoping there’s something he can do for her as her big brother, promises he’ll show her the school.

But first they go to the zoo and watch the pandas, tigers, giraffes, elephants, meerkats, and all the other animals, all just “doing their best to live their lives”. Like Pandas with their not-very-nutritious bamboo diet, Kaede—specifically this Kaede—has it rough. But all she can do is keep doing her best.

That night, before heading home, Sakuta delivers on his promise to take her to school: an empty school at night. It proves just the thing. Having seen the place in the flesh for the first time, Kaede is more optimistic and motivated than ever to go to school during the day. Not because she might be out of time in her current state, but because it’s the next natural step.

Her opportunity to go to put that optimism and motivation to the test never comes. The Kaede who wakes up is the old, pre-breakdown Kaede. You can tell, too: Kubo Yurika totally switches up her voice. She remembers Sakuta, but doesn’t remember going to the zoo, and doesn’t speak in the third person. “Kaede” is gone.

Will it be for good…and isn’t that okay? It’s not like Kaede died, after all. Sakuta may feel like he lost someone precious—and in a way, he did—but that person was never going to be around permanently. We’ll also have to see how the “original” Kaede reacts to everything in her life, from her parents, friends, even her room layout, being different from how she remembers. Will Sakuta seek to bring back a part of “Kaede” to help bridge the other Kaede’s gap of experience?

Bunny Girl Senpai – 11 – #KaedeGoals

That little cliffhanger about Mai (actually Nodoka in Mai’s body) being seen with Sakuta by a photographer? No biggie; the director of her upcoming film decides to spin it into a marketing opportunity, while Mai admits to the relationship and is candid not only in how it occurred (a kohai confessed in front of the entire school) but why it matters (were it not for him she wouldn’t be back in show business).

Now Mai and Sakuta get to hang out without any problems, and the two are on cloud nine. Then Sakuta gets a letter from “Shouko” whom he later confirms is not the middle schooler of the same name who hasn’t come by the house in a while, but rather his “first crush.”

When he confides in Futaba seeking advice, Futaba texts everything he tells her to Mai, making her status as a confidant now somewhat suspect! It’s all good, once more: Mai is fine with him meeting Shouko, as long as he’s back by six so she can make him dinner. He doesn’t get a kiss, though.

The main dilemma this week isn’t Sakuta and Mai’s relationship or the return of “Shouko”, but Sakuta’s little sister Kaede, who’d kinda served as the show’s mascot up to this point. Still, as a victim of such intense bullying she and Sakuta had to move and she stopped going outside, it was clear the show was going to promote her to the lead in an arc at some point.

Sakuta is about to go to the beach to meet with Shouko, but he’s delayed by the sudden appearance of one of Kaede’s classmates, who saw Sakuta in a magazine tracked him down. She wants to meet with Kaede to apologize for not doing more to stop the bullying, now that the ones who bullied her were themselves bullied out of the school. Back home, the numerous visits from the other girls Sakuta has helped has convinced Kaede that she can’t remain stagnant, and begins compiling a list of goals to become more independent.

Her first small step is to answer the phone when someone other than Sakuta is on the line (in this case, Mai), but the stress of doing that for the first time in a long time causes her to nearly faint. Even more distressing, when Kaede is resting to recover from a fever, Sakuta notices a dark red blotch on her neck; no doubt another symptom of adolescence syndrome, much like his own chest slash marks.

However, Kaede recovers, the blotch disappears, and she keeps taking smal steps, aided in no small part by an extremely kind and understanding Mai, who offers a number of cute outfits she wore in magazine shoots for Kaede to wear when she goes outside.

The day finally arrives, and Sakuta comes home to a fully resolved sister. Still, it takes Sakuta lying about how far outside of the entryway they’ve strayed to get Kaede to follow through; call it one last little nudge to get her where she herself wants to be. It’s a truly triumphant, emotional moment that’s a long time coming; even Sakuta can’t help but tear up.

Kaede was scared of the outside, where the love of their home, like a security blanket, wasn’t out there to protect her. She still is. But she’s far more scared of staying inside, so even though her brother tricked her, she’s grateful.

From there, Kaede takes larger and larger steps until she’s able to roam around outside without clinging to Sakuta. He decides to surprise her by taking a trip to the beach, along with Mai and Nodoka. They have a grand old time, and Kaede is having fun…until her friend arrives, and she retreats behind Sakuta once more.

This friend doesn’t understand why Kaede doesn’t remember her, but Sakuta has an explanation, and it’s something he’s been waiting for the right moment to tell Mai too: Kaede has no memories. I suspect that is to say, no memories from after whatever psychological break she suffered as a result of her bullying.

Obviously, that’s still objectively not good, and looking back at Kaede’s behavior, it has seemed like a part of her was missing beyond the part that could go outside and interact with people. The stagnancy she fears isn’t just about remaining shut in, but about that yawning gap in her memory.

The two main questions are 1.) will and how will Sakuta & Co. help Kaede get those memories back, and 2.) where do “Shouko” and Makinohara Shouko” fit into this equation, if at all?

Bunny Girl Senpai – 10 – Damn You, You’re Too Awesome!!

Nodoka prepares for the second day of commercial filming by watching DVDs of her sister in action, including a horror movie, which seems apt; body-swapping carries its own kind of horror, and she’s essentially wearing her big sister’s skin!

The prospect of screwing up similarly fills Nodoka with dread, but after twelve takes she does eventually get the job done.  When Mai calls her, she gives the phone to Sakuta, still not ready to talk to the person she’s made out to be her nemesis. But Mai tells Sakuta to congratulate her nonetheless; it can’t be easy to do your big sister’s job…especially if you come into it not believing you can do it from the start.

As for little sisters, Kaede has seen enough pretty girls pass through the doors of their apartment to start thinking like someone who knows that at some point they have to start going outside again. Putting on her school uniform is a small but meaningful first step on that path, and it’s good to see she’s not just some static mascot of a character. Like Futaba, her own story has been subtly maintained.

Nodoka’s personal horror movie inludes a banshee of a mother who confronts “Mai” to cease harboring her daughter; Nodoka-as-Mai truthfully replies that she’s doing no such thing (since she’s at Sakuta’s…but she wisely leaves him out of the equation).

Mai gives Sakuta and Nodoka tickets to her latest gig in Nodoka’s body, but before that Sakuta has a rare meeting with his Dad. When Kaede became a shut-in, their mother apparently had some kind of breakdown of her own (it’s kept pretty vague). It was serious enough for their father to have to basically choose between continuing to live with his kids, or taking care of their mother full-time and trusting that Sakuta will be able to take care of himself and Kaede.

While at a family restaurant (fitting), Sakuta gleans fresh insight into his Dad; specifically how completely frazzled clueless he was upon his son’s birth. Sakuta says “all of the above” in response to Nodoka’s choices of “love, hate, piss you off, are annoying” as how he feels about his parents. Clearly a part of him has concluded that if he’s able to run a household with his little sister and solve cases involving one girl after another, he can’t really rag on his folks that much.

As for the Sweet Bullet gig, Mai-as-Nodoka is flawlesss, a testament to her consummate professionalism, attention to detail. Hell, she even saves the group leader’s ass when she trips by catching her mic and continuing to sing her part without missing a beat. Her performance is rewarded by the announcement she’ll be singling lead for the next song they release.

Nodoka and Sakuta watch, utterly enthralled. After the concert, Nodoka’s mom is among those who “high-fives” Mai-as-Nodoka, and she smiles, tears up, and congratulates her, things she never did to Nodoka-as-Nodoka. Nodoka demands to go to the beach, and starts striding into the sea, believing she isn’t needed by anyone anymore.

Sakuta stops her, and assures her that’s not the case: if anything happened to her, Mai would be sad, and Sakuta can’t have that. Nodoka doubts him, but he assures her it’s true, and furthermore knows it’s true, especially after looking into the forbidden cabinet at Mai’s place.

He shows Nodoka the box in that cabinet, which contains every single letter Nodoka wrote to her big sis, from before they knew they were sisters. Mai’s always treasured them because they gave her courage and strength knowing someone specific (as opposed to the other faceless masses) was cheering her on.

It was thanks to Nodoka that Mai even started enjoying her work. Mai appears (it is her apartment they’re in) to thank her sister. Nodoka comes back with a tirade about how it’s “too late” since Mai managed to get her mother to smile and approve, and get her own lead singing gig before her.

In response Mai slaps not Nodoka, but Sakuta (since Mai has a shoot tomorrow  and she doesn’t want to risk marring her face). She describes how Nodoka’s Mom’s hands were trembling when she held hers; how she could tell her mom was uneasy about whether her daughter was truly happy; seeing her perform so well all but confirmed she was.

Nodoka asks why her Mom never said anything, but unlike, say, Sakuta’s Dad at the restaurant, parents are always loath to tell their kids how uneasy they feel about raising them, and about whether they’re doing it right. Mai’s solution for Nodoka, as the sisters embrace, is to make her mother happy doing something she wants to do, not just what she’s told. To show that she can stand on her own, without direction, and shine. Seto Asami does a tremendous job voicing Nodoka through Mai in the emotionally cathartic scene.

The sisters now sufficiently made up, their bodies switch back to normal like the snapping of a soap bubble, before Sakuta’s eyes. Later, Futaba posits that Nodoka’s believed need to “be like her big sister” resulted in the swap (possibly through a variant of quantum teleportation), while Mai changed her appearance to Nodoka, out of momentary jealousy.

As for Sakuta, he’s just happy he can be lovey-dovey with the real Mai. But two new obstacles threaten that desire. One, Nodoka moves in with Mai (she got in another fight with her Mom, but hey—that’s what family does sometimes; it’s not the end of their relationship, she just wanted a change—and the little matter of Nodoka-as-Mai being photographed with Sakuta by her side by a photographer. Now there’s buzz out there that Mai Has A Boyfriendsomething Mai calls a “slight problem.”

But I agree with her assessment; it’s not as huge an emergency as a bout of Adolescence Syndrome (the next case of which looks to finally focus on Kaede next week), nor a rift between sisters that was just amicably closed. She and Sakuta are a strong, dependable, shrewd couple. They’ll get through it!

Hanebado! – 07 – The Power and Price of Hard Work

The best and most thrilling episode of Hanebado! yet, in which Ayano and Kaoruko have their fated rematch, comes with a surprise: Ayano’s mom is nowhere to be seen; none of Ayano’s teammates mention her again; and there’s no indication she watched the Kaoruko rematch. Where’d she go? We never find out. But she’s there, and she’ll surely be back.

Her total absence reflects the new attitude towards her mother Ayano wishes to adopt: that she doesn’t have a mother, or at least not one whose opinions matter to her anymore. Ayano looks initially rattled by Kaoruko’s gift of a hankie for the tears/snot when she loses, but her pained look morphs into a wry girn.

Ayano isn’t scared of Kaoruko anymore; at least not on the surface. Her inner thoughts/feelings are off limits to Ayano’s teammates, Kaoruko, and we the audience, but it could well be she’s just as calm, cool, and committed to obliterating her opponent inside as out.

Yu loses her match, making Ayano, Nagisa and Sora the only three players left standing in the prelims. But frankly I just wasn’t that interested in the little subplots of the other characters. This was about a suddenly supremely confident Ayano and a Kaoruko humming with arrogance: an Unstoppable Force vs. an Unmovable Object.

Despite the distractions, the match lives up to the hype and then some. It’s the most high stakes match we’ve been able to watch, and the animation team pulls out all the stops, utilizing all manner of angles, zooms, pans, sweeps, etc. as well as a 3-D “floating camera” that soars from one end of the court to t’other. It really got the adrenaline pumping.

But even more important: for once, Ayano, supposedly one of the most talented players in the show, isn’t embarrassed or overwhelmed, physically or psychologically. She is in complete command of the match, and demonstrates virtual telepathy when it comes to diagnosing Kaoruko’s game plan and sabotaging it at every turn with unexpected counters.

This is where Kaoruko’s tireless hard work, ultra-granular attention to detail, and the ruthless drive to defeat Ayano at all costs actually work against her. She prepared so intricately carefully for an opponent based on what she thought she knew of them up and down, leaving no time to consider how Ayano’s skills would have improved or evolved parallel to her own.

Ayano is no stranger to hard work either, after all. She employs it here, and her grit on the court is reinforced by her conscious effort to block all of those negative and unpleasant thoughts that plagued her for so long. Free of the need for validation from her mother, she’s a player possessed.

She’s also in rare form on the trash talking front. Kaoruko talked a big game, but Ayano’s retorts are strategically toned and timed for maximum damage. Long story short: Ayano is all that’s in Kaoruko’s head. Winning is al that’s in Ayano’s head.

The final 21-16, 21-17 score in Ayano’s favor doesn’t do justice to the level of dominance she displayed against Kaoruko in 90% of the match. The defeat is devastating, and not just because she gave her entire team the middle finger prior to the match, so confident was she that she’d “mop the floor” with Ayano.

Ayano broke a fantasy that Kaoruko kept playing in her head as she worked so hard: that she could beat the first player her own age to beat her, without cheating by giving her a cold. She thought she was psychologically stronger. Her only loyal, sympathetic teammate helps her stretch post-match, both of them cry, for Ayano crushed those fantasies, then offered Kaoruko her hankie back.

Ayano, for her part, calls Kaoruko’s effort “pathetic”, which rubs Elena the wrong way. Ayano’s cold response is simply that on that court, winning is the only thing that matters (Sorry, Riko, Yu and Sora!). Another way to say that is that if you don’t win, then nothing matters. So yeah, Ayano may be playing her best badminton, but she’s gone to a dark, lonely place to do it.

Next up is Nagisa vs. Nozomi, but you know what? However it turns out, I can’t see how it won’t feel like a bit of a letdown after Ayano vs. Kaoruko. Both players are lower down on the character significance list. What could mitigate that is if we finally get the Ayano-Ayano’s mom reunion we’ve been waiting for all season. Who knows, maybe she did watch the match; the episode just never cut to her…

Hanebado! – 06 – Not Just One More Match

Prelims are upon us this week, and it’s Izumi Riko’s turn to be angsty. It’s her last year and last prelims, and she wants to win. The only problem is, her first opponent is her childhood friend Nozomi, who also happens to be one of last year’s final four. Riko is not confident she can hang with the likes of Nozomi, and even though Nagisa tries her best to fire her up, Riko ends up frustrated and the two part ways for the evening on a bad note.

The day of the matches arrives, and Riko and Nozomi are cordial but cool, as imminent opponents must be. The team rocks their slick new one-piece uniforms, and Riko’s four cute siblings are in attendance, but she still manages to stink up the joint in the first half of the first set overwhelmed by her own lack of confidence as well as Nozomi’s unbeatable aura.

When the interval comes, Riko knows she has to do something…so she goes over the shots of the match so far, analyzes them, and finds that Nozomi is avoiding her backhand. Riko goes on the offensive and gets a point or two before Nozomi re-adjusts. It’s a beautifully-animated, fast-paced story told through the smooth, graceful, yet powerful motions of the players; a chess match of adjustments and counter-adjustments.

Riko still loses, but she makes Nozomi work for her win, going against her opponent’s strict coache’s insistence she conserve her stamina. It was just another match for Nozomi; a stepping stone to the next round. But for Riko, it was the match; the only match left in her high school career. And as her coach directed, she had fun out there.

Whither Ayano? Well, for most of the episode she seems to be putting up a strong front of Everything’s Okay, and may even believe she’s past worrying about her mother or Connie. But these prelims are uniquely equipped to not let Ayano escape her troubles so easily. Not only is she facing Serigaya Kaoruko in the next round, but her mother will be in attendance to watch their rematch. That should be interesting…

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 12 (Fin) – Whatever It Is Between Us, It’s Not Worthless

Igarashi Chika seems like a last-minute addition to the cast in order to create one last conflict that will test Hikari and Iroha’s bond of love and trust, but he’s a lot less of a douche than I thought he’d be. When he learns that Hikari’s glasses were a gift from his late grandmother, he promptly has them replaced. Takanashi still hasn’t publicly atoned for the shit he did to Hikari, and he’s somehow in the clear, but here’s Chika, doing the right thing without delay.

Sure, he deems Hikari too mediocre to date his sister and suggests he break up if their relationship isn’t “worth” anything, that’s typical Unbidden Brother Protection, and he doesn’t make it an order; he puts the ball in Hikari’s court by making him ask himself: what can he do for Iroha, besides the “nothing” of which he only believes himself capable?

After an advice session with Ishino that costs him the price of two big parfaits, Hikari settles on a token of his commitment to and bond with Iroha: a ring. Ishino raises the difficulty level by saying he can’t simply trade in his otaku junk for the scratch to buy one; he should work for it, and arranges a part-time job as an amusement park mascot (sadly, not at Amaburi).

However, while Hikari only has the best intentions in terms of wanting to see her smile, like she did when he made her a figurine of herself, he demonstrates that he still has a lot to learn by basically cutting Iroha entirely off without explaining why.

The desire not to spoil the surprise actually ends up hurting Iroha, especially when she doesn’t have any answers for Chika, who decides to back her against a wall while reminding her that they’re not actually related by blood. Considering how the episode ends, seems like a bit of a non sequitur. Ultimately, he lets Iroha be, hoping it all works out and she isn’t hurt by Hikari.

Professions of absolute trust notwithstanding, Iroha knows what she has to do to put her mind truly at ease: ask Hikari directly what’s going on. She gains her courage from Itou of all people, who she checks in on after he’s hit in the face with a soccer ball.

Itou was distracted and fatigued by his continued struggles trying to get Ayado to notice him like a girl notices a boy, rather than simply a messenger who relays invitations to her on behalf of his circle of friends.

I still don’t think Ayado would consider Itou completely out of the question as a partner, but Itou decides to end his particular part in the show still firmly on the fence. He’s unable to do what he inspires Iroha to do: tell the person he loves how he truly feels.

It’s not an exaggeration to say a great deal of luck is involved in lasting relationships. Like, say, the luck of having purchased a ring to gift to your girlfriend the very day she finally confronts you about what you’ve been doing after school. It’s not the best ring, but after he was able to measure her finger while she slept at his desk (which I guess isn’t creepy if you’re dating…) he couldn’t hold himself back from buying one.

He slips it on Iroha, whose tears of frustration turn to joy, they share a kiss right there in the school hallway. After the credits we see Hikari, Iroha, Itou, Ishino and Takanashi (but notably not Ayado) at Takanashi’s latest ramen find. And that about does it?

Wait: What about all that foreshadowing about Hikari and Iroha’s relationship being a ticking clock due to her having to move? It’s not addressed. Itou’s Ayado odyssey ends on an ellipsis. Takanashi still shoots down any tortured attempt from Ishino to get him to go out with her.

So, if I had the time machine from Steins;Gate (or anywhere, really) and had the chance to decide whether to watch 3D Kanojo again? Well, probably. Despite its horrrrrrible animation and many untied loose ends, I still felt like it had some interesting things to say about first love, particularly from the perspective of two “less-than-ordinary” personalities.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 12

Here we are: at the midpoint of what I assume will be a 24/25-episode third season of Food Wars, and Souma has finally taken it on himself to challenge the First Seat of Totsuki’s Elite Ten.

But it wasn’t arrogance that led him to this position! What would you do if Tsukasa told you Nakiri Azami’s ultimate goal is to shut down every restaurant in Japan? Somebody has to take a stand, even if it’s foolhardy.

Despite the stakes, Souma remains calm and does his thing. I appreciated the meta nod to his bag of secret ingredients that have won him challenges in the past. He whips out a new one to use with the venison—sweet chestnuts—then cooks the meat in a seemingly very un-French way—with a charcoal brazier.

When his dish is complete, Tsukasa wonders who will judge it, clearly too focused on his cooking to notice the eavesdroppers in the hall. Souma, however, knew Megumi, Hisako and Erina were there all along, and encourages them to serve as judges.

Souma’s dish tears both Megumi and Hisako’s clothes off, and even Erina is pleasantly surprised; despite the charcoal, Souma used the bitterness of instant coffee to balance his dish, and it is presented in a way that barely passes the French cuisine test.

Then it’s time to taste Tsukasa’s dish—absolutely perfectly-cooked venison with two exquisite sauces—and it isn’t even a matter of clothes coming off or foodgasms…the girls are transported to an Eden-like dimension where they are one with the deer, the trees, and the sunshine.

So yeah…it was kinda silly to imagine Souma was never going to come anywhere close to beating Tsukasa, unless Tsukasa was jobbing. As much as they don’t want Souma working for Central, they have no choice but to pick Tsukasa’s dish as the winner; it’s just…better.

But hey, turns out Souma doesn’t have to work for Central even though he lost! He put up a good fight, and in the process demonstrated to Tsukasa that he’s far too wild and unpredictable to serve as his right hand. So he declares a draw and takes his leave. No harm, no foul!

With that, the episode moves on, with two quick, surprising wins for Megumi’s Cultural RS Nikumi’s Don RS. While sadly there wasn’t time to get into them in any kind of detail, it’s good to see that it isn’t just Souma and Ryo who can beat Central. The morale of the rebellion reaches a new high.

While celebrating Megumi’s win, Polar Star holds a grand tasting session for the God Tongue (much to her chagrin), but Hisako is nevertheless glad Erina’s fitting in with everyone (though someone needs to take that dour brown frock away from Erina and burn it, IMO).

Just when it looks like the episode will end on a happy upbeat note, Azami darkens Polar Star’s doorstep. He invites himself in, ignores demands to leave, and orders Erina to come with him. Erina almost starts to move reflexively, so completely has he conditioner her to obey, but he’s blocked by the other dorm members, Hisako, and even Fumio, who reveals Azami is a Polar Star alumnus.

Isshiki reports the results of his research on Nakamura Azami, and how he rose to Third Seat in his first year, First Seat in his second, and became a top star…until Senzaemon exiled him. Outnumbered, Azami takes his leave, but Souma follows him outside and asks, basically, why he hates Polar Star so much.

But Polar Star is nothing to Azami; neither love nor hate. He’s after bigger things. Besides, Polar Star’s Golden Age is long gone; during that time, Azami looked up to a senpai named Saiba Jouichirou. Azami’s revolution is meant to be the “salvation of the culinary world that ruined Saiba-senpai.”

Erina peaked her head out at just the right time to hear that the chef she always admired and even loved has a son, and that son is Yukihira Souma. That knowledge should make the second half of the season interesting!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 11

Last week I pleaded for the show to do something, anything with Erina before the cour is out, and it seems like my prayers were answered … somewhat. She’s finally out of that horrid brown frock, back in uniform, and more importantly, outside the friendly confines of Polar Star.

Erina confides in Isshiki that she doesn’t expect her relationship with Alice to improve anytime because of the “horrible things” she did to her in the past, even though those things were done when she was under the absolute influence of Azami.

So it comes as a shock to the system when Erina arrives at the Shokugeki hall to find Alice telling Azami off right to his face, demanding he let Erina be her own person. Alice knows it wasn’t Erina’s fault she never got her letters, and never again wants her cousin in the postition where she can’t write back.

But this isn’t going to work if Erina herself doesn’t stand up straight and show her domineering creepfest of her father that she’s her own person. Alice can’t let her main rival be a cowering puppet!

The Alice-Erina interaction is wonderful, but things get even better and more complex when Yukihira and Megumi’s teacher is dismissed and replaced by First Seat Tsukasa Eishi. (Additionally, as Ryo was the only rep to beat Central, Azami quickly purges of the other 32 clubs and societies that lost in the first round.)

Tsukasa, wonderfully voiced by Ishida Akira, is the siren, if you will, who will bring the students to heel through their adoration of him; the class is understandably super-stoked to have the opportunity to learn from the First Seat.

Where things get interesting is when Souma volunteers to be Tsukasa’s teaching assistant, then proceeds to exceed Tsukasa’s expectations with the skills he honed at Shino’s, keeping up with the superfast pace of Tsukasa’s cooking.

The class is wowed, and frankly, I enjoyed Souma and Tsukasa—ostensibly an enemy—putting aside their differences to work some culinary magic in perfect harmony. As Souma says, it was fun!

Meanwhile, Erina has worked up the courage to return to scheduled classes, a big step forward and a relief to her admirers. In a scene that’s touching despite the blatant fanservice, Hisako remarks how she’s noticed a change in Erina.

Erina acknowledges is a result of witnessing all of the people, from those in RS’s to Polar Star, Souma, Ryo and Alice, standing up against her father, something she once thought impossible.

She’s now become worried less about how to please father and more worried about what she Nakiri Erina, wants to do with herself…something far beyond taking a side in Totsuki’s not-quite-dead Civil War.

Speaking of sides, Erina, Hisako, and later Megumi end up eavesdropping on an extended conversation in which Tsukasa offers Souma a job as his right-hand man, making him an official member of Central.

When Souma says he wouldn’t want to present Yukihira Diner’s cooking at Central, Tsukasa calmly reveals that such a thing wouldn’t be necessary, because Yukihira Diner’s cooking isn’t necessary.

All Tsukasa wants is Souma’s “supportive abilities” to help him refine his own cooking, while Souma’s cooking would presumably die off. Tsukasa, literally Number One at Totsuki, has no qualms exposing his boundless selfishness common in many elite chefs.

Souma doesn’t see the point if he can’t serve his own cooking, and says for all they know, Souma’s cooking is better than Tsukasa’s, to which Tsukasa responds with an informal challenge right then and there. If Souma wins, Tsukasa will surrender his First Seat to him. If Souma loses, the rest of his days at Totsuki will be spent as Tsukasa’s sous chef.

Tsukasa begins cooking immediately, and the smell of his venison is so invigorating, Megumi and Hisako—outside the classroom—have foodgasms without a bite! Even Souma hesitates in the presence of such superlative cooking skill—until he hears of Azami and Central’s ultimate plans.

Central aims to literally take over the Japanese culinary world, shutting down all restaurants deemed subpar, including Yukihira Diner. This isn’t just a silly little war within the school, it’s primed to become a nationwide battle between the monolithic empire of orthodoxy and the rebellion of independence an individuality.

Here’s the thing: I just don’t see Souma beating Tsukasa. Does that mean he loses and is forced to switch sides? If this is a conflict the effects of which will extend far beyond the school, will he instead choose exile? And since she’s been listening and watching this whole time, what will Erina decide to do?

LOL. Never change, Erina.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 07

It ain’t just the game of thrones—in the game of love, you win or you die…romantically speaking. It’s take no prisoners; shit or get off the pot; even moreso when you’re young and just figuring this stuff out.

With the Dome City amusement park as the setting for this outstanding episode, Akane, Kotarou, Chinatsu and Hira all learn harsh lessons about the game they’re all playing, the risks and rewards of being passive or active, and how being on the winning side can be fleeting. It’s a side that must be defended.

I honestly can’t stop snickering at Kotarou’s face while on the roller coaster. That is the face of someone very unhappy he didn’t decline Chinatsu’s suggestion they sit together. He might as well be shouting over the roar of the coaster ‘I’VE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE!’

Because he’s next to Chinatsu, Akane is next to Hira, and because she doesn’t handle coasters so hot, it’s Hira, not Chinatsu, who serves as her support during and after the ride. It doesn’t help Kotarou that the majority of the rest of the group is shipping Akane and Hira (except Roman, who we learn has had his suspicions about Kotarou and Akane before Kotarou confirms it).

Kotarou and Akane simply start out the trip all wrong, due to their general passivity in a scenario that requires activity. Akane ends up with Hira a lot of the time, but did nothing to prevent it; Kotarou ends up with a super-aggressive Chinatsu, who understands she’s got to hustle to have any chance over Akane…and may even be moving so fast and forcefully because she already knows she has no chance.

In either case, after Kotarou sees Akane with Hira, Akane sees Kotarou with Chinatsu, and after some time passes, Kotarou sees Akane with Hira AGAIN, Kotarou has finally had it; he’s groaned his last ineffectual groan. Time for some muthafuckin’ ACTION!

He calls out to Akane, then tells Hira he’s in a relationship with her, which she backs up. He then takes her by the hand and they walk off, just in time for Chinatsu to spot them together. As her tears start to fall on the souvenir photo of her and Kotarou on the coaster, I can’t help but feel for her. She got off to a good start, but ends up running out of steam.

After a great series of reactions from the group after Roman confirms Kotarou and Akane are going out (which NO one else saw coming), the happy new couple finally has their precious time alone. What had felt like such a delicate bond strengthens with each activity they do together.

I appreciate how they mirrored my own glee over the whole situation with lots of beaming and giddy laughter, neither of them able to contain their elation at being able to hang out together.

After eating together for the first time, going on various rides and to a haunted house, the two close in closer and closer for a couple selfie, and their bubbly contentment only intensifies when they see how much like a couple they look in the photo.

Meanwhile, Chinatsu returns to the group, her eyes raw from crying, and her girl-friends get the bad news that Kotarou chose Akane over her. Chinatsu might’ve stolen Akane for the coaster and gotten temporarily “lost” with him, Akane ends up stealing him back, though mostly thanks to Kotarou taking action.

No matter; it’s the action Akane wanted to be taken. She’ll be the proactive one next time. As the fireworks explode across the night sky, Kotarou takes her hands in his and leans in for a kiss, and Akane leans in right back.

A nosy little shrimp interrupts them (where are your damn parents, kid?), but they get so goshdarned close to kissing, I’m going to go ahead and call it a kiss, even if it isn’t officially their first kiss. Neither of them bailed out; it was a matter of being surprised by an outside stimulus. Close enough, I say!

Chinatsu…she was never that close, because Kotarou simply isn’t interested in her the way he is in Akane, just as Akane isn’t into Hira that way. At the end of the night, Akane and Kotarou are exactly where they should be, where they want to be.

hen Chinatsu texts Akane that she couldn’t confess, Akane says “Sorry” to herself. I’ve no doubt she feels bad about Chinatsu getting hurt. Chinatsu was the one who chose to keep going even though she knew Akane was with Kotarou, but Akane could have been more forceful in discouraging her.

But at the end of the day, when made to choose between her happiness and Chinatsu’s, there is no choice. It’s shitty not being the one chosen, but that’s life. Akane and Kotarou won the game today. They deserved to savor their victory. Here’s hoping the wins keep coming. They must be vigilant.

P.S. Attention, Show: You have extinguished your allotment of near-kisses. Next kiss better not be interrupted. You have been warned!