To Your Eternity – 15 – A Victor Without Victims

Having Parona’s form brings Fushi nothing but grief, for the fact he has her form almost certainly means she died, like March, far to young. His Creator tells him not to get so worked up every time someone dies—literally everyone in the world except the two of them will die, after all—but Fushi tells him to piss off, and to the very hands-off Creator’s credit, he does.

As for Fushi’s new self-appointed bestie Tonari, she’s absolutely jazzed by Fushi’s new form, complimenting his hair and skin, glomming on him like she wants to possess him. She claims to want to be the bow to his arrow, but her constant spewing of half-truths and false faces remains extremely disorienting to Fushi. Combined with the whole kidnapping Pioran thing, he insists she leave him alone. She doesn’t.

As for the Creator’s credo of Pain Promotes Growth, Fushi replaces it with his own: Fuck Pain. On a island where the intricate social organization of humanity is blended with inhuman savagery, Fushi may be the most human one there, thanks to the quintessentially human people who helped shape him into the good and kind orb he is. It’s why he wants to save Pioran, his family, even though she insists she’s where an old criminal belongs.

So dedicated is Fushi to the cause of honoring Parona and Gugu’s memory by putting himself to good use protecting others, as she did, he even protects his own opponent in the third round from the arrows of impatient staff and spectators. This flummoxes the fighter to no end, but after he’s laid up with an arrow back home, both we and Fushi learn he too is a human in this place that is both inhuman and as human as humanity gets.

Some veteran islanders come by to protest Fushi’s way of doing things, insisting that he brings dishonor to everyone he fights by not killing them. Tonari shields Fushi from them, only to get punched in the face by a man who is then shot with a poison dart by one of Tonari’s crew.

But far greater than the threat of the islanders are the Nokkers, who rise out of the ground, stab Fushi, and steal Gugu away so he can’t use fire on them. Now down to the boy, the wolf, the crab, Parona, and the mole, and with a shitload of potential bystander deaths, Fushi runs, and warns Tonari and the others to run in the opposite direction. They don’t.

Fushi tries to burrow into the Nokkers as the mole, but he’s quickly tossed out and loses that form. Tonari grabs Fushi by the scruff of his coat, beaming widely and in absolute awe of the giant stone bear, while her crew launch diversionary attacks.

Tonari has a meta moment, asking Fushi who he thinks she is: “a side character who just runs away?” Then the earth opens up and it looks like Tonari is history, but Fushi grabs her and pulls her back onto land, where she orders her crew to execute a certain plan.

This plan involves explosive arrows. That works perfectly for Fushi, since his Parona form is quite comfortable with a bow. He can also infinitely create more bows and arrows when the crew runs out. The islanders, once rearing for a fight with Fushi and Tonari’s crew, restrain the bear with huge ropes and join the fusillade.

In the end, the Nokkers are defeated, and Fushi is able to regain both the form and memories of March, Oniguma-sama, and Gugu. It is an unqualified victory, but he could not have done it without help from Tonari’s crew and the islanders, all of whom he hated when the sun came up that day, but now probably has a new appreciation for, seeing as he got his forms, his family back.

For the first time, Fushi reacts to Tonari’s constant goofing around and bullshitting with a genuine thank you, which catches the girl completely off guard. Tonari repeats to him that to change fate, sometimes you have to work with others, and their victory today was proof of that.

It looks like Fushi, Tonari, and the crew will get to enjoy a bit of rest and celebration after quite an impressively action-packed episode imbued with ample emotional weight due to the stakes—and eventual spoils—of victory. But the final round of the tournament lurks, and crazy-ass Hayase lurks along with it, so that rest probably won’t last long.

To Your Eternity – 14 – Hail to the Chief

Fushi finds himself ensnared by the mysterious Tonari, who pushes him into a arena battle royale before he even knows what a battle royale entails. Once he realizes it’s kill or be killed, he decides not to kill, and since he can’t be killed, he ends up winning when the last non-immortal fighter standing passes out from a hangover.

Fushi wins the adoration of the crowd, as well as an entourage in Tonari and her young friends. In the episode’s very expository second act, Tonari and the others explain The Way Things Are on this prison island now essentially run by the convicts. The island burns through chiefs, but Tonari sees potential in an “eternal” chief to bring some kind of stability and dignity to her home.

Fushi is mostly disgusted by this island full of death and enslavement, and wants nothing to do with Tonari and her pals who he says aren’t “normal” if they can laugh, smile, and joke in such a place. He asks the Creator to take him to Pioran, but the Creator won’t do anything for him that won’t help him grow.

The creator tells Fushi that a plain fact of living with mortal humans is that sometimes they’ll choose how and when to die, as Gugu did, and as the arena combatants do. Fushi can already be said to have caused the deaths of many humans so far, so what’s a few more who have already chosen to die? As for one life he wasn’t able to take—Hayase of Yanome—she’s on the island, and marks her quarry in the night by licking his face.

The day of the second round of the arena tournament, Fushi has little interest in participating despite Tonari’s prodding. He turns into his dog form, accidentally kills a mole, then becomes the mole so he can dig underground. But he’s snatched up by an owl and dropped right in the middle of Tonari’s posse.

Forced into a one-on-one battle, Fushi tries to intimidate his opponent, but as the Creator told him, that opponent has already decided on only one of two paths: victory or death. Neither becoming a wolf-dog or a flame-spitting Gugu has any effect. That’s when Fushi suddenly remembers Parona, transforms into her (despite her still being alive, as far as we know), and is amazed at how light and nimble he’s become.

He’s able to defeat his opponent and move on to the third round. The crowd goes while, and Hayase licks her chops in preparation for a confrontation in the near future. Whatever Hayase’s intentions, Fushi is about to be tested like never before, as the Nokkers have surely followed him to this island. They’ll either take more of his memories and forms, or he’ll reclaim the ones they stole.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

To Your Eternity – 13 – Acquiring Something Invisible

Less than a week after Fushi left Booze Man’s home and his found family, he wears a variety of facial expressions, wrestles with his grief, and questions his purpose. He even summons the Creator and puts the question to him, and obviously the Creator has an answer: Move Forward. Become Stronger. Defeat the Enemy.

This isn’t because Fushi was created to be a perfect weapon. It is because he is a mechanism placed on this world to collect and preserve information. If the world is destroyed by the Nokkers before he can do that, it would be an immeasurable loss. Fushi, having spent so long as a human, is understandably rebellious towards his “absentee dad.”

The Creator says at some point he’ll be gone, while Fushi will remain, so he’d better figure out how to deal with the Nokkers on his own in preparation for that time. Shortly afterwards, Fushi encounters Pioran once again, who left Booze Man, Rean and Shin to be Fushi’s “walking stick.” She knows the dangers they face, but “living on the edge” has more appeal to her than a quiet life.

Fushi is initially reluctant to have Pioran accompany him on his journey, but he soon re-warms up to her, as likely so many people have. They go to a town where she has a feast, and all the while Fushi is worried about the Nokkers following him and causing more harm. He realizes his Creator meant for him to bump into Pioran, knowing he couldn’t help but want to protect her.

When Pioran catches Fushi talking to no one she can see, she eventually coaxes him into telling her about the Creator. Pioran takes the information in stride, just as an old lady like her takes everything in stride, as she must. Then one day, she spots some ripe fruit in the trees, and tells Fushi to change into March…and Fushi doesn’t know who she’s talking about.

Pioran thus learns that the Enemy has stolen his memories of March along with her form—a second death, when you’ve been forgotten by everyone still alive. It’s the antithesis of what he was created to do: to collect information so it is never forgotten.

Fushi and Pioran’s travels eventually take them to a busy port full of seedy individuals. A cheerful girl guides them aboard a ship that turns out to be run by human traffickers. Fushi and Pioran are separated by gender and are sailed to Jananda Island to be processed.

Fushi’s brand heals almost instantly, however, so when a guard notices, the same girl who lured him and Pioran aboard the ship rescues him, successfully claiming to the guard that a mistake was made. Fushi goes with her, but eventually stops her to ask where Pioran is; she tells him he shouldn’t bother; there’s no getting her back from those people.

Fushi insists and tries to climb a massive sheer stone wall using conjured spears, but ends up slipping, falling, and dying. As his smashed head reassembles, the girl who doomed then helped him watches along with her four young friends, who are simultaneously grossed out and greatly impressed.

The green-eyed girl tells the newly-healedFushi that there is a “realistic” way to free Pioran, and it’s to fight in the Arena. For Jananda Island is a Prison Island, where any and all favors are never given, only taken. It’s a new arc, with a new collection of immediately lovable characters who will surely meet their untimely and heartbreaking demise by the arc’s end. Hopefully we’ll have some good times with them before then!

To Your Eternity – 12 – Crushmore

Don’t let the punny review title mislead you; this episode did indeed crush me emotionally, just as it emotionally crushed Fushi and Rean and physically crushed poor Big Gugu. From the moment the outcropping balcony crumbled from beneath him, I knew this would probably be the final act of the Gugu Arc.

It’s funny how when I first met Gugu and later Rean that I couldn’t imagine becoming as attached to them as I did March and Parona…but here we are. Such is the power of To Your Eternity’s straightforward yet compelling storytelling and beautiful character development.

Proving he is and always has been a good orb thingy and friend to humanity (heck, for four years he was a human), it only takes a moment after he is warned by his Creator to transform into his Giant Bear form in order to buy Rean’s party guests time to escape the crumbling mansion.

Also, in what is a nice touch, Gugu is rescued by a group of people brought by Rean, including her own husband-to-be. But not before one of the Nokker’s weird flesh tentacles sticks itself into his armpit and does…something, and whatever it is it can’t be good.

No sooner is Gugu saved than he runs into the wrecked mansion where Fushi is still holding on for the sake of Rean’s injured parents, who Gugu snatches up and takes to safety. Rean wants the boy she loves to stay with her from that point on, but Gugu breaks free from her grip; he has a brother to help, and Fushi, now back in his original younger Snow Boy form, is happy for the help.

That’s because he has no idea how to beat the Nokker this time. His creator didn’t bother him when he was determined to live as a human, but that turned out to be a two-sided coin: Fushi wasn’t ready for the Nokker’s new tricks, and the delay nin dealing with said Nokker costs him dearly.

At first, even Gugu’s new flamethrower mask can’t penetrate the Nokker’s stone armor, but with some help from March!Fushi and a steady supply of conjured spears, he’s able to open a crack in the armor large enough to shoot his booze flames, shocking the Nokker.

Unfortunately, he only made the Nokker mad, because it returns as a stone Giant Bear arm, plucks March!Fushi from the rubble, and squashes him like a bug, stealing the March form from Fushi once again. Just as the Nokker is about to crush Gugu, Rean leaps out of nowhere to push them both out of the way, paying him back for the now two times he did the same to save her.

As Fushi comes to in Snow Boy form, he realizes he is feeling pain, but it’s not his own, it’s Gugu’s. Whether due to their familial bond, the Nokker’s armpit injection, or both, Fushi can feel what Gugu feels…and it’s not good. Gugu’s broad back and trunk-like arms are the only things keeping untold amounts of rubble from crushing Rean to death.

It’s a situation that ironically and heartbreakingly traps the two in what is physically a very romantic and intimate position. Gugu takes the time to reassure Rean, even as blood starts to drip from his open mask. She sits up to kiss his face. He tells her he loves her. Then he dies, but we don’t see the moment it happens. Instead, we know it to be true for a fact because Fushi transforms into him.

Despite being distraught over losing his brother and best friend, Fushi wastes no time using his new Gugu form to fight the Nokker, blasting it repeatedly with flames and eventually getting it to leap into the ocean to chase him, where it eventually self-destructs, leaving only the weak, squishy core to slither away into the depths.

Fushi’s Creator appears to tell him which way the Nokker went, and tells him to go after it. He doesn’t, and once again the Creator doesn’t force him to do anything, though he does ask if it’s really already for the Nokker to make off with “a part of him”. Right now that doesn’t matter to Fushi, who has already lost a part of himself in Gugu, who died saving Rean’s life one more time.

In a scene reminiscent of Adult March after she died, Gugu finds that his face has healed and he has reunited with everyone: Booze Man, Pioran, Rean, Shin…but wonders where Fushi is. That’s when the illusion crumbles. After his soul spends a little while longer with a distraught Fushi, telling him he has no regrets, Rean runs back to the Booze Man’s house as soon as she’s healed from her injuries.

Fushi panics, not wanting to appear as the younger Fushi before Rean, but with his March form stolen by the Nokker the only other human form he can assume is Gugu. Rean mistakes him for the real thing and tells him she loves him. After they share a hug, and Fushi wonders Why am I me? Rean asks where Fushi is, and Gugu!Fushi tells her he died.

Booze Man, who already knew Fushi would be taking his leave in order to protect them from his enemies, prepares some food and money for him, and while Rean is told Gugu is only “going shopping”, a part of her surely realizes this is the last time she’ll see him, as much as she doesn’t want that to be so. So she’s glad when he refuses to take her ring back from her, as he tells her to keep it so she’ll always remember him.

A little later, Rean’s father finds her lying out in the field of purple flowers she and Gugu promised to pick together. She tells her father she won’t be getting married, because she’s in love with someone. That someone isn’t around anymore, but she’s sure Fushi is with him.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

Vivy: Fluorite Eye’s Song – 10 – Looking for a Hint

When Diva’s code degraded into oblivion and Vivy re-awakened and took her place on the stage, Diva’s final song was already over. Ever since then, Vivy has been unable to sing, still unable to find the answer of what it means to “sing from the heart”.

So she retired to much fanfare and took up residence as an exhibit at the AI Museum. Decades passed, and humans and their children gradually forgot about her and her contributions. But not all: Osamu, a young lad on a field trip, knows full well who Diva was, and is.

Osamu wants to hear Diva sing live, but she tells him that’s not possible. When Matsumoto shows up after a good number of years, Vivy is eager for their next mission together, as it’s not “all she has.” But Matsumoto tells her the Singularity Project is over; the double suicide of Ophelia and Antonio didn’t lead to any copycat incidents; a positive revision to the timeline.

Yet despite the fact they’ve seemingly achieved victory it preventing the AI uprising, something Kakitani said still haunts Matsumoto: “through a revelation from the heavens.” That led him to meet Vivy now, sixty-five years from when they first met. He proposes a “race”: whoever finds their answer first wins.

Vivy goes into the archive and dredges up her first memory, when her creator (a female researcher) gave her her mission to sing from the heart, hoping it would “offer a hint” as to what a heart is, at least as it applies to humans.

Osamu visits Diva again, saying it’s “messed up” his classmates don’t know her. Inspired by Matsumoto, she proposes a race, with him bringing friends to meet her while she searches for the answer her creator knew full well she might struggle with her entire life.

As one year, then five, then ten, then twenty pass by, Vivy writes a song in the Archive, which if completed would be the first instance of a song written by an AI of their own pure free will (all previous songs were written by humans). Her progress is glacial; unable to come up with more than a couple of phrases and constantly erasing notes she’s put down.

Meanwhile, Osamu has quite a bit more progress in those years, making friends, making a career for himself in research, and eventually meeting and marrying his wife Nana. While Osamu and Nana are able to conceive, she dies of an illness shortly after giving birth, leaving Osamu both a father and a widower.

He visits Diva with his daughter Luna in his arms, and asks if she would like to hold her. Diva asks why Nana was able to smile despite knowing she wouldn’t live to see her daughter grow up. Osamu tells her that all humans die, but they always remain inside someone or many people without fail. Such is the case for him with Nana and, as Vivy realizes, it’s true of her and Diva as well. As little Luna grasps her hand, Vivy is hit by a sudden spark of inspiration.

She dives into the construct and belts out a completed song, written about her and Matsumoto’s journey in the Singularity Project, and of all the people she’s met. When an impressed Matsumoto shows up and asks who she wrote it for, Vivy says it’s for Diva, who remains inside her even though she’s gone.

After twenty years, she was finally able to finish her task…yet she still cannot even contemplate singing it, so her struggle continues. Before that, though, Vivy goes into hibernation mode, resting her circuits after accomplishing her singular feat.

Her friend Osamu, who along with his wife and daughter inspired Vivy to do what no other AI has, can see that his friend Diva is in deep sleep crunching music data. He leaves her to her creative slumber, assured that when she wakes up he’ll finally be able to hear her voice. Then someone off-camera calls Osamu by his last name…Matsumoto.

Unfortunately, the joy that comes with the revelation Vivy’s cubic partner was a friend and admirer from her future all along is soon overshadowed when Vivy wakes up to find the museum in burning ruins. She runs outside, where the AI apocalypse is in full swing, with one key, horrifying, heartbreaking new wrinkle: as they murder every human in sight, all of the AIs are singing in sinister, dissonant unison. They’re singing Vivy’s song.

To Your Eternity – 06 – A Grand Objective

Note: This episode was originally mislabeled as episode 5. It is episode 6.

The original March may be deceased, but she lives on in Fushi, in the same way parents live on in their children…only different, because it’s Fushi, who can take on the physical form of his found mama. Thankfully, it’s not just her climbing ability he’s inherited, but a measure of her profound humanity.

There’s no doubt that March taught him generosity and gratitude, which he pays forward when he reunites with a stranded and hungry Pioran quite by chance. Pioran is her usual sardonic self, but isn’t beneath trying to take a literal bite out of Fushi in his boy form, causing him to switch to his defensive wolf form.

Eventually he becomes March again, climbs a tree, tosses Pioran some fruit, then says “Thank you” in a way that sounds like “This is what you say.” Pioran, in turn, starts to teach him more words, as well as how to write his name, as well as her own, March’s, and Parona’s.

The two make a good traveling team, and Fushi learns more and more, so by the time they arrive at a port town and board a boat to Pioran’s homeland, he’s able to communicate in a more-or-less conversational manner, a far cry from crudely mimicking sounds out of context. The youthful vigor of the late March as well as the seasoned wisdom of Pioran have quickly made Fushi more human than ever.

So it’s terrifying when he’s ambushed one night in the woods by mysterious tree golem-like monster who literally steals Fushi’s boy form, along with most if not all memory of the boy’s life. The narrator arrives and tells Fushi the score: the tree monster is the enemy, and if he wants the boy back, he’ll have to fight…and win.

Fushi transforms into the wolf, but the monster steals the wolf. He transforms into the giant bear, but the monster steals that too. In terms of corporeal forms, he’s down to just March, who while tiny and relatively weak, is quick and agile enough to dodge the monster’s bear form, enter its hollow chest, and grab the core that enables the golem to move.

This is a simply breathtaking action scene, marred only by the low light, which isn’t even that big a deal since it leds a great gloomy atmosphere to Fushi’s building panic at losing his forms. Like the drawings in the boy’s hut (which are updated in the card between the A and B parts), they are Fushi’s family, and he’s clearly distressed about losing them.

Fortunately, his March form is enough to grab the core, give it a good squeeze, and the wolf, boy, and bear flow back into him. He smiles in relief, and the mysterious cloaked narrator introduces himself as Fushi’s creator. He created him with a grand objective in mind: preserve the world before “the coming end”. The tree monster was their enemy, unable to take a true animal form and bent on impeding their objective.

That said, the Creator can tell Fushi can’t quite understand these concepts, and so parts ways with him until later, when he’s lived a little more in the world, and gained a few more forms. Pioran takes him to her hometown and the house of her lover, who is apparently a scholar who might be able to make heads or tails of Fushi. The house is also home to a boy wearing a distinctive mask that hides his face. Pioran rather rudely introduces Fushi as an “immortal freak.”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

KonoSuba – 10 (Fin)

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Yes, it’s the quickly waning Winter’s first Fin, coming so early it feels wrong. Not because we haven’t dealt with 10-episode series before, but because I was having so much fun! KonoSuba really made the most of its ten, though, cementing its title of Best Comedy of 2016 So Far. And it ends in appropriately grand fashion.

The biggest threat to the Beginner’s City arrives just in time for the finale, but like every other threat before it, we’re not meant to take it all that seriously. Instead, it becomes a matter of now if but how the spidery bastard will be taken down, and at what cost.

While vowing to face the Destroyer head-on as a knight, Darkness reveals her true name (Dustiness Ford Lala(or Rara)tina) and status (rich girl whose family is repsonsible for the protection of the city and its environs). She gives a pretty cool speech, but the serious tone is nicely undercut by Kazuma scoffing at the silly, cliche name, as he should.

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It’s interesting, then, that when I look back, Darkness didn’t actually do anything to defeat the Destroyer. Instead, it’s up to the other girls—Aqua, Megumin, and Wiz—with Kazuma offering moral support.

The girls aren’t sure their abilities will be enough against the hulking foe, but once Aqua gets into the spirit of things (and yells loudly enough), the Destroyer’s shield shears off like a tissue in the wind.

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With the shield down, it’s Megumin’s turn to contribute, and surprisingly, she forms a tandem with Wiz in launching dual explosion spells at the Destroyer, knocking it on its ass.

Darkness stands unmoving in front of the thing as it skids toward her, but like I said, doesn’t really do anything (but looks cool not doing it!) With that, Megumin is down, as expected.

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But in keeping with the show’s spirit of lampooning every aspect of RPG fantasy shows, the battle is Far From Over, as the Destroyer activates a self-destruct countdown that will wipe out the town. Darkness jumps at the chance to be ravaged and defiled by whatever is inside the mobile fortress, and rushes in alone without a plan.

I guess this is when Darkness comes in handy, as she motivates her fellow adventurers to, well, venture in behind her. Mostly though, the men of the town don’t want the Succubus brothel destroyed, which is an honest motivation! It’s good to know what you want to protect.

Kazuma takes a reluctant Aqua by the hand and goes in, and it isn’t long before they find the Destroyer’s creator, having died in his chair long ago, a journal handily nearby to offer some insights about his life. Strangely, Aqua determines he died without regrets.

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She learns why when she reads the journal: the dude was a scientist or engineer who didn’t expect his team to procure the coronatite core he needed to complete the Destroyer…but they did, so he finished it.

It went out of control and destroyed the world, with him trapped inside, but for whatever reason, the situation doesn’t really bother him, and he dies satisfied and fulfilled…The End.

This is the part of the episode I laughed at most, not just because of how hilariously absurd a perversion of the “confessionary journal” trope this was, but because the narrator’s voice and delivery is so funny, as is the reaction by Aqua, Kazuma, etc.

To stop the self-destruct, they have to transport the coronatite out, but to do so Wiz needs a lot of magic and life energy. Kazuma volunteers, hoping the experience will “make him an adult” (something he proudly reports to his parents in his head), but Wiz doesn’t french him; she just sucks him dry until he looks like a shriveled old man.

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It does the trick, though: Wiz transports the core away (to an ominously random location). But it still isn’t over, because without the core the Destroyer starts to overheat, which will eventually engulf the city in flames. Kazuma’s solution: blow it up before it does.

Only problem is, Wiz is out of magic, as is Kazuma (back to normal!), and Aqua can’t transfer her holy magic to the lich without making her disappear. Enter Megumin (on the back of a helper), who won’t disappear if she gets magic from Aqua.

Kazuma serves as the conduit between the two, and once Megumin has what she needs, she lets loose her biggest boom yet, a blast that sure as hell looks like it consumes a good portion of the town…only it doesn’t, which is good!

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After that last blast, the Destroyer really is defeated for good. Victory! Time to celebrate, and for some guys to get married!

The party’s mansion escapes the crisis unscathed; Aqua has her patch of grass to nap on; Megumin has what looks like a new staff; Darkness can rest easy her town is safe; and even though he’s been through a lot, Kazuma is finally upbeat, considering everything that’s happend to be a trial to prepare him for the real adventures he’s about to begin.

Except that doesn’t happen. Instead, authorities arrive to arrest Kazuma on the charge of subversion of the state. That coronatite core he had Wiz teleport away to a random location? That random location was the overlord’s mansion. Furthermore, he said he’d take responsibility. Looks like his formidable luck ran out at the worst possible moment. But of course it did!

KonoSuba was a fine collection of fantasy anime send-ups, which never felt like it was trying too hard. It was a show with a plot you could completely brush off because you knew full well it wasn’t what mattered.

And while the characters weren’t the deepest in the world, they were satisfyingly specific, rootable, and never failed to entertain. I’m sad to say goodbye, but it seems there will be a second season down the road, so it’s really just a see-you-later to this Wonderful World.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 11

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It sounds like Hannah was pretty disappointed about her show squandering its promise…though that’s partly on her for even remotely thinking that show was going anywhere daring or compelling.

Not to be smug, but didn’t have that problem with this latest Saekano. Last week focused heavily on the wild card Machiru, setting her up as someone who could genuinely challenge Tomoya, who was in need of some challenging in the midst of all his ladykillin’.

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What last week failed to do was show us what would happen when his harem came into direct contact with his purple-haired, skantily-clad cousin. The results were momentous; everything I hoped for and more. Utaha hawkishly defends otaku culture, while an initially flabberghasted Eriri even finds some common ground when Machiru mentions that, on some rare occasion, Tomoya can be cool and come through for you.

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We also find that exposing oneself to Michiru isn’t enough to convince her to compose your dating sim’s soundtrack; far from it. In fact, part of what gets Utaha so steamed is Michiru’s outsider-looking-in perspective of Tomoya, and his obsession with otaku culture, is something to mature out of rather than cultivate. When Michiru disses Tomo, she disses everyone in that room. Except for Kato…who is definitely in that room…watching and waiting.

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Michiru’s reasons for not jumping into Tomoya’s project go beyond her semi-maternal dubiousness with his present course in life. She’s got her own dream of being in a band, after all. When she says she needs a manager to appease her dad, Tomoya is eager to step in, but when she tells him it won’t be a part-time job, it becomes her dream versus his. That’s right: Michiru isn’t perfect; she’s selfish too.

What’s so awesome is how much sense her selfishness makes. She’s known Tomoya all their lives; and she has an idea what he could and should be that just doesn’t jibe with what he is and wants to be. But it’s her affection and concern for him, not merely her own self-interest, that comes through when she says this manager job could be just the excuse he needs to drop this whole gamemaker charade.

And she calls it a charade because she had a good look at his fellow circle members. While she’s well aware that they all have their reasons for being in that circle (calling Tomoya a sly dog in the process), she doubts their commitment to making the game is anywhere near Tomoya’s level.

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Of course, we know better, and so should Tomoya, but Michiru’s words create genuine conflict in his heart. Suddenly he’s not just the fumbling leader of a haremy doujin circle, but a guy trying to find out whether his dream is really as quixotic as she says. But Kato is up all night at Eriri’s working on the game, knowing Tomoya is a week behind; and Utaha is up too. They’re all working their pants off while he worries.

He then makes the best decision of this episode and calls Kato early in the morning, and they have this lovely, natural boyfriend-girlfriend phone conversation, in which he voices his anxieties.

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Yet again, Tomoya luxuriates in the very thing he has no idea he has with Kato, yet simultaneously must know on some level he has. Kato gets him out of his house, where he’d been worrying all night rather than working, and gets some breakfast into him, ever the practical mind. But in an ingenious gambit, she talks through the game prototype to comfort and reassure him.

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And in an even more ingenious and somewhat diabolical scheme, she keeps her hand firmly planted on Tomoya’s and the mouse as the dialogue starts going to places Tomoya rather wouldn’t; things about having feelings for attractive cousins, something to which she can relate.

While Kato claims the dialogue was simply random, let’s get real: there’s no way it was random. This was calculated payback for Tomoya “steppin’ out” on Kato, and it was absolutely glorious. For the first time in a while, she’s able to make Tomoya squirm as much as Michiru.

At the same time, she proves how good she is for him by picking up his slack without even being asked to, and not feeling forced or obligated to. It’s a brilliant dynamic.

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His confidence in the project thus restored, and his apology delivered, he shares an earbud with Kato so she can hear Michiru’s music, and she agrees that she’d be perfect for the soundtrack. And it could be that Kato’s little piece of mischievousness also inspired Tomoya to come up with a plan to snag his cousin.

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As he is a man of wide-ranging otaku means and connections, he’s able to get Michiru’s band a slot at a live performance, a gesture he uses to prove to her he can be an effective manager. In turn, Michiru lets him see her get teary-eyed for the first time since he carried her on his back when she twisted her ankle years and years ago. She also apologizes, admitting she was being selfish.

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Thus, Tomoya has his cousin right where he wants her: in his debt. Tomoya looks awfully proud of himself as the episode cuts to black, but I’m certain more compromises are in store for him, and managing both Michiru’s band and a circle full of girls competing against each other won’t be a cakewalk either.

Still, I’m willing to come out and say these past two episodes cemented Michiru’s place as my second-favorite girl after Kato. As she demonstrated quite emphatically, there’s simply no beating Kato!

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P.S. I’ll be watching Saekano’s final (for now) episode later tonight and hopefully have a review of it up not long thereafter.

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 10

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AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR. Or FIVE, if you count IZUMI. OMG, WHY AM I SHOUTING AT YOU WHERE ARE MY MANNERS?!

Anywho, everyone’s favorite purple-haired tomboy Hyoudou Michiru is here, and her timing couldn’t have been better. Why? Because after a seemingly long string of episodes in which Tomoya is fawned over by one girl after another for various reasons, this week Tomoya is the fawner—perhaps not by choice, at least at first—and not the fawnee.

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Tomoya is content to bury himself in Blessing Software, as he holds teleconferences with his staff and make progress on the dating sim (though Kato’s line deliveries either need more work or none at all, bwahahaha). Then his only cousin Michiru appears, topless, in his bathroom, having run away from home after the latest disagreement with her dad (Tomoya’s uncle).

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Whether she is oblivious to her power over her cousin of the same age (who was born on the same day in the same hospital as her!) is having fun torturing a horny teenage boy, or is herself into Tomoya (the truth is likely a combination of the three) calling Michiru a disruptive force in Tomoya’s little otaku world would be a grim understatement.

The sudden 3D onslaught nearly drives Tomoya to insanity. The camera reflects his uneasy but utterly-unable-to-avert gaze, and it’s all over the voluptuous, scantily-clad Michiru. This episode features the most fanservice since the prologue; possibly more.

But like that promising if totally out of chronological order start, the fanservice is never tiresome because a.) it’s also character-service and plot-service, and b.) it’s very well-done, right up there with Monogatari. For example, animators are notoriously bad at feet, but not here.

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For one reason or another it’s a long night for Tomoya, so in the A.V. clubroom, he’s all but asleep at the laptop, causing him to spout supportive dialogue that gets Utaha all hot and bothered—and forces Eriri to quarantine her in the broadcast booth, where she nonetheless continues to participate in the discussion via the P.A. system.

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I like how the show clearly isn’t interested in such tedious minutiae as why Tomoya’s circle has such unfettered access to such slick digs. You’d think the A.V. Club would be in there, or at the very least some paperwork and lobbying would be required to gain access to the facilities. But this isn’t that kind of show. Saekano doesn’t care, and nor do we. They’ve got a place at school to work, and that’s all we need or care to know.

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Just as the circle’s topic of discussion turns to determining who will score the game, a very big oversight to this point, considering the awesome power of music (cough-Violin Girl-cough), Tomoya gets a cheerful text from Michiru asking when he’s coming home and stating she’s ordering pizza (or possibly four pizzas in one).

It’s innocent enough, reflecting Michiru’s unique position as friend, family, and love interest. Kato, possibly exercising Stealth Mode, “can’t help” but glance at Tomoya’s phone and read every word.

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That maks Eriri curious, which in tern makes Utaha curious, and Tomoya has a full-scale riot on his hands. He’s tied up in caution tape and interrogated, and each girl stays true to character: Utaha remains her seductive self, but is clearly annoyed and maintains a certain intentional unpredictability to put Tomoya that much more on edge.

Meanwhile, Eriri recedes to the very edge of the room, flustered and on the brink of panic. Kato is just Kato; meaning she kinda stays in the background and lets the two heavies do all the outragin’.

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When Tomoya tells them who Michiru is and why she’s in his house, it hardly assuages their anxiety. On the contrary, it sets these two creatives types’ imaginations ablaze, as Utaha writes a scenario about the cousins on the spot, one so troubling it just about does Eriri in, which may have been Utaha’s intent all along.

But it’s true that while Utaha teases, often very seductively so, she can’t touch the inherent intimacy of Michiru, nor her fearlessness and utter lack of inhibition regarding Tomoya. Eriri, meanwhile, may be a childhood friend, but Michiru, who was present at Tomoya’s birth, is the Ultimate Childhood Friend.

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What I didn’t think I’d see was so much of the family side of Michiru. I’d thought all along that she was at least a little older than Tomoya rather than the same age, but even so Michiru lives in a more “normal” world than Tomoya, and takes immediate (and unsolicited) attempts to make him grow up, first by tossing all his otaku crap and replacing it with her own, more sober musically-themed room decorations.

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This means that in addition to having Utaha’s seduction and Eriri’s longevity beat, she also gives Kato’s domesticity and practicality a run for their money. Keep in mind Michiru is not being mocking, but giving her honest opinion as someone who’s known Tomoya longer than anyone, when she tells him he could easily get a girlfriend if he stopped acting like a weirdo. The fact that Tomoya wouldn’t be interested in that kind of girl is irrelevant; Michiru is looking out for a family member. One has to think about marriage at some point!

Similarly, when Tomoya is finally able to segue into telling Michiru his dream of creating the ultimate dating sim, Michiru couldn’t be less impressed. In fact, she finds it ridiculous that Tomoya would try to make a living off his childish hobbies. She even strikes a concerned parent/wife pose…which wouldn’t look bad painted on the fuselage of a P-51.

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Tomoya has always had a blind spot for the non-otaku Michiru, who has flitted from passion to passion, always abandoning something when she’s bored, while it’s in his nature to stick to one thing like stink in a Basset Hound’s un-groomed ear. But here’s the thing: Michiru is really good at everything she tries. Of late, she’s been in an all-girl band, which was the cause of her argument with her dad. So we know she’s good at that too.

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So good, in fact, that when she decides to defy Tomoya while he’s taking a bath by plugging her guitar into an amp and playing a piece she’s working on, Tomoya sees the same cherry blossom petals that flew by his face when he first saw Kato on that hill. Not only that, he sees the entire dating sim story unfold to Michiru’s stirring tunes.

He’s so spellbound, he forgets he’s in nothing but a towel when he enters the room, a reversal of their first encounter this week. Michiru is about to apologize, but Tomoya isn’t there to hear one. He’s there to ask her to join his circle as composer.

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Then his towel slips off, and Michiru gets the Full Aki. She neither accepts nor declines. She simply stares. Having been built up so much recently by the fawning of Utaha and Izumi and Eriri, Tomoya has come back down to earth and stands before Michiru, as naked as the day they were both born in the same hospital.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 09

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At some point after Eriri ran off, Tomoya returned home, went to bed, and dreamt a painful memory. While he was asleep, Kato, concerned that the circle was in trouble, called Utaha, who came running and then let herself into Tomoya’s bed.

Utaha’s excuse for why she’s there—that she had zero screen time in the last episode—is one of the more brazen punches through of the fourth wall since the prologue, and I laughed.

That would only be the first taste of an episode that was a veritable buffet of witty banter, much of it courtesy of Utaha, who does seem to be making up for her absence last week.

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That absence actually served two purposes, to my mind: it made the heart grow fonder for Utaha, and also gave Eriri the space and isolation she needed for her current falling-out with Tomoya to resonate properly.

Utaha knows about the falling-out, and she’s here to help. More specifically, she’s here to slap Tomoya out of his wimpy indecisive protagonist mode and set making up with Eriri his top priority, over all other considerations, including her own pursuit of his heart.

Make no mistake, Utaha is not about to lose to Eriri—or Kato, for that matter, whose sudden regular presence in Tomoya’s house irks he. But she’s also not about to let the circle fall apart over a squabble that can be easily fixed (from her perspective, not Tomoya’s).

Plus, if her main rival in love were to forfeit so easily, it reflects badly on her…not to mention be less fun!

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Speaking of Kato, she doesn’t get a lot of time this week, but what time she does get feels significant. Kato has stealthily all but moved in and made herself quite comfortable as a steady “spouse” figure for Tomoya.

Utaha wouldn’t even be there if it wasn’t for Kato, and Kato summoned her knowing she’d know better how to deal with both Tomoya and Eriri in their current state. Tomoya thanks her for that, and more, and Kato can’t help but blush a tiny bit in response.

This show has a knack for making me want to route for Tomoya and…whichever girl he happens to be interacting with at any given moment, in part because they interact with him in such unique ways.

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The increasingly wife-ish Kato and seductress-ish Utaha have been the best so far, but Eriri has proven she’s no slouch in these past two episodes. Unlike the other two (and the acolyte-ish, “hidden savior” Izumi), Eriri can claim she was Tomoya’s first.

As plans are made to win her back, capitalizing on the fact (which Utaha is well aware of) that she is a hopeless romantic waiting for a prince to ride in and sweep her off her feet, Eriri acts very much like the wounded princess in the tower.

Utaha is also quite right that she isn’t able to draw in this state. Heck, she can’t sleep and can barely dress herself for her parents’ fireworks soiree either.

You can really feel her pain and paralysis of the results of Tomoya’s harsh words. Little does she know he and her nemeses are plotting the lifting of those clouds.

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In a very goofy but also very adorable romantic gesture, Tomoya dresses up like Eriri’s favorite player from the game and re-enacts a scene from Rhapsody that moved them both to tears years ago.

Tomoya is on his best behavior as per Utaha’s instructions as he admits he could die of embarrassment, but refuses to die until he’s made up with her. It works, and he’s able to coax Eriri off her balcony.

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Hearing Utaha, Tomoya, and Kato plan this stunt in voiceover as it’s happening in real time was a shade disorienting at first, because we weren’t sure if this was simply an idealized dramatization we were witnessing, but it’s soon clear this is no simulation.

Despite that initial doubt that the scene was real, I still enjoyed the VO, because they were approaching this the way you’d expect members of a fledgling dating sim—members with little real-life romantic experience—to approach it: like a dating sim. It’s also more deliciously meta this way.

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Tomoya and Eriri visit their old elementary school to find a new building that wasn’t there when they attended, ruining what had been a pleasant night of nostalgia thus far. Eriri rememebers why she’s mad and demands an apology. Utaha pressed Tomoya to use every childhood friend advantage at his disposal to raise Eriri’s flags, but he cannot abide Eriri’s righteousness, and goes off script.

The fireworks are soon drowned out by increasingly heated exchanges of verbal volleys. Tomoya tells Eriri she has no right to be made about not being “picked”, because it was she who abandoned him when rumors started to surface about the two of them way back in grade school.

Eriri fires back that she felt just as much pain as he did when she did that, and that she dedicated herself to her craft to get back at those who broke them apart. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that she ran away.

Tomoya also refuses to flatter Eriri by telling her what she wants to hear, contrary to his supposed role as charming, accommodating prince. He doubles down, telling her flat out that her Comiket work wasn’t as good as Izumi’s, and challenges her to dig deeper and become even greater.

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The two don’t totally make up by the end (a fact for which I’m thankful; no neat tidy bows here), but a path forward is forged in the midst of all the fireworks and yelling. Tomoya’s tough love is able to shake Eriri out of her stasis, and she re-commits to making herself Tomoya’s #1, rather than simply expect to be #1 and whining when she discovers she isn’t.

To that end, she gets back to work in the circle; but not before having Iori deliver a double-sided illustration to Izumi: one an autograph from Kashiwagi Eri; the other a declaration of war by Eriri Spencer Sawamura.

And lest we forget who’s actually Tomoya’s #1, at least at the moment (even if he doesn’t quite see it that way) he finally gives the circle a name: Blessing Software. Blessing translates to 恵み, or Megumi, as in Kato Megumi. Nice touch!

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 08

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Eriri is gorgeous and talented, but she’s also a very sensitive soul. Way back in episode 0, we see that she’s a “sad drunk”, too bashful to participate in torturing Tomoya, and going on about how “mean” he is. At the time, she’s echoing her fellow female doujin circle members’ grievances about him working them too hard without any praise, but this week, we get a clearer picture of just the kind of “meanness” she’s on about.

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But it doesn’t start off that way…or does it? Tomoya is helping Eriri finish up her work; it’s a “nice guy” thing to do, but when Kato comes over and for once, becomes the center of his attention, it’s Eriri in her training suit who fades into the background. Worse still, Tomoya and Kato get all comfy playing a game Eriri let Tomoya borrow eight years ago and never gave back. Kato even uses Eriri’s favored knight archetype: the childhood friend, natch.

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In the flashback to the exchange of that game, Tomoya and Eriri only have eyes for and interest in each other. Tomoya is excited by her drawings, and Eriri enjoys the attention and praise drawing gives her. You see, even back then, in Muppet Babies land, a very similar dynamic to the one we have in the present; the major difference being Eriri is no longer his one and only. She’s only one of many within twin circles of creativity and romance. Tomoya’s attention is divided.

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Still, when she comes to a good stopping place, Eriri can’t wait to play the game, while Kato is away. Notably, we don’t see her leave, but she’s downstairs making dinner, and for a few glorious minutes it’s just Eriri and Tomoya playing video games, the way it used to be. Remembering those good times, their history, and the fact Tomoya is helping her out, she assures him she won’t be poached away by Iori. She’s his; for the duration of the game project, and beyond, as long as he likes.

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In this assurance, Eriri is actually responding to an issue Tomoya brought up but she put off so she could play the video game. Bolstered by nostalgia and with a little time to think while playing, she gives him her decision. But the fact he sounded like he wouldn’t stop her if she did decide to sign with Iori to send her career into the stratosphere was a troubling sign that Tomoya just isn’t properly attuned to his childhood friend who wouldn’t mind being more.

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When Tomoya takes Kato to the first day of the Summer Comiket, well, it’s another case in point of the increasing division of Tomoya’s attention. Even Kato is somewhat edged out when they bump into Izumi.

Kato demonstrates great patience throughout the episode, and also fires off some truly awesome comebacks to Tomoya’s comments about their surroundings. But between Izumi and the spectacle of Comiket itself Tomoya pretty much ignores her, which is kind of shitty.

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Kato plays things far cooler than Eriri, but you can tell she’s pissed, and that there’s even some sincerity in the words above, despite the fact they were delivered intentionally devoid of emotion. That deadpan is more than just a charming virtue of Kato’s. It’s also a shield, though as we see, even though they’ve just met, Izumi can kind of tell she’s mad Tomoya is going so far out for another girl.

The reason for him going so far for Izumi is that she’s actually pretty damn good for someone who’s only been in this game for a year. Tomoya is drawn to one page that was clearly hastily drawn, but also well-drawn; the result of the story changing at the last minute, forcing Izumi to discard the finished art and draw new art.

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Her devotion, dedication, energy, and integrity put a spark in Tomoya, who proceeds to orchestrate a simple but effective marketing program that gets all 100 of Izumi’s books sold, a genuinely amazing feat, as artists on as low a rung as Izumi rarely sell more than 10% of their stock.

One of her customers was Eriri in disguise, pulling off a fairly good facsimilie of Kato’s Stealth Mode. But she clearly wasn’t just there to shop; she watched Tomoya go nuts for Izumi’s sake, then read Izumi’s book and saw it the same way he did—as pretty decent stuff. And that’s the problem. First Kato played her and Tomoya’s game, Izumi is moving in on her and Tomoya’s other special connection: his passion for her artwork.

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While her perspective is obviously skewed, we and Eriri both saw Tomoya exhibit a ridiculous amount of joy and passion, and the fact that she’s not the source of it cuts her to the quick. Tomoya really digs his hole deep by refusing to give Eriri a direct answer to the question “Is my stuff better than hers or not?” It’s an unfair question, but one could argue that it’s being asked to an unfair person by a girl in an unfair position.

Also, Tomoya has known Eriri for years now. Even if they’ve only just reconnected as friends in earnest, he should know of her sensitivity, and her need to be validated. Dodging her questions in her vulnerable state, so soon after she witnessed him fawning over Izumi, veers toward the cruel. But I’m not saying humoring her would have turned out any better, as the damage had been done throughout the episode.

And now, even after halfway through Eriri’s place in Tomoya’s circle seemed secure, the possibility of being poached is back on the table. I leave this episode liking Eriri more and Tomoya less. Here’s hoping he makes things right.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 07

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A big reason why I’ve enjoyed Saekano so much isn’t just its knack for cleverly inserting commentary about the genre in which it dwells while telling a unique story all its own that benefits from that self-awareness and self-critique. It’s also the show’s knack for getting us to forget all about the future and simply focus on the now, and the wonderful dialogue and interactions between Aki Tomoya and the varied girls in his life.

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This episode was off to another great start. After spending all of his time with Utaha last week, this week it seems to be Eriri’s turn, and she makes the most of it by making Tomoya role-play a sex scene with her. Both of them are well aware they’re merely reading lines to one another, but since both of them put in such good performance., they end up arousing one another, something Eriri probably hoped for.

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I personally wouldn’t mind if that was the whole episode, but there are big changes afoot this week, and in the process of introducing those changes, the show suddenly turns its gaze away from the now and towards the horizon, which I must admit is a little unsettling.

Just as Tomoya is chastising Kato for suddenly sporting a ponytail (my take is that Tomoya really likes it, otherwise he wouldn’t notice it, but he won’t admit it). A discussion ensues, into the cultivation of well-established and time-honed “core traits”—like a blonde twin-tail or long jet-black hair—versus “cheat tricks” like the sudden change of hairstyle.

Those two core traits are brought up by Kato and clearly meant as a commentary on the two other girls chasing Tomoya around. Kato is establishing that she is unique and goes against the grain of the tropes.

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That leads to Tomoya bringing up another time-tested trope: the “little-sister-type kohai”, and hey-presto, Hashima Izumi appears on queue. Of course Tomoya also had, and now has, this kind of girl in his life as well. It’s something that was missing to this point; now all he needs is an attractive relation, which we know to be Michiru from the prologue.

Izumi was prominent in the OP and ED and had the look of a younger, devoted-kohai character, so I knew she was coming. Better yet, she’s voiced by the bright and ever-exuberant Akasaki Chinatsu. Also true to her type, a lot of what she says in praising Tomoya did for her could be taken entirely the wrong way due to her particular phrasing. But her sudden appearance, bereft of a single prior word about her existence in the show itself, is a little problematic.

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Be that as it may. Izumi is definitely a disruptive force that unsettles the status quo, and not surprisingly pisses Eriri off, since she’s already had two other stout competitors to contend with to that point, and she was the only one with a long past with Tomoya. No longer.

Speaking of a past, Izumi’s introduction is paired with her brother Iori, who is Tomoya and Eriri’s age and has a sorted and arguably more interesting history with him. Tomoya rejoiced when he learned that Izumi, the class prince, was just as much of an otaku as him. But their friendship was dashed on the rocks by a clash of otaku philosophies. Tomoya valued the sheer enjoyment and sharing of things he liked; while he saw Iori as “riding the coattails” of creators.

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But in that professing this, Tomoya exposes his hypocrisy. He’s an amateur running a doujin circle, ; by his logic, he’s also guilty of depending on two of the brightest rising stars in the industry in Eriri and Utaha; even if they are his friends.

I think the distinction lies in what Tomoya does offer his creators, though not knowing enough about Iori’s relationship with his famous circle members, these two may be peas in a pod after all. We may see Iori through Tomoya’s eyes as a greedy freeloader, but what if Iori inspires his creators the same way Tomoya inspires Utaha and Eriri?

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It’s probably a coincidence, but it looks like Iori shares a trait with one of his seiyu Kakihara Tetsuya’s more famous roles, that of Simon in Gurren Lagann. Both are good at digging and burrowing, and eventually dig themselves out of obscurity and into the spotlight.

Tomoya often conceals his true feelings about things by discussing them through a protective prism, namely his collective dealings with the girls he’s working with, but also courting, particularly Kato. By that same angle, Tomoya purports to spit upon the way Iori does things, but his own motivations and actions could be construed as just as selfish.

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More than anything, this episode makes me hope there will be a second cour of this show, and not just because I love it. I feel we’ve really only scratched the surface here. The Kato, Utaha, and (semi)Eriri-centric episodes are all to establish what Tomoya means to those girls and what they mean to him. Izumi and Iori are introduced to break up the love-in and create an external conflict that will drive the remaining story.

This is no longer simply about making a dating sim; Iori has officially declared it a battle, and he won’t hesitate to poach Tomoya’s talent, if he can. But after what’s gone down in the last seven episodes, the four remaining are not nearly long enough for a satisfying conclusion. So for the first time I can remember, I’m actually hoping for a second cour when I’m not sure if one is coming. And I’m also hoping that hot spring prologue was only the midpoint of this increasingly complex and entertaining story.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 06

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An ongoing theme in Tomoya and Utaha’s friendship has been mutual inspiration. In their first encounter (they’re classmates, but hadn’t interacted before) Tomoya expresses how much Utaha’s work inspires him the moment he steps up to her table at her book signing. His remarks leave an instant and lasting impression. Fast forward to that “fateful” snowy day when Tomoya declines to read her latest manuscript.

Utaha, you see, never come out and told Tomoya he inspires her as she did him. Offering him the manuscript is her way of showing it. But he rejects that approach, and even though it’s for perfectly understandable reasons—he’s a fan, and doesn’t want to influence her creative process any more than he wants a sneak peak at an unfinished work—it still feels to Utaha that he’s rejecting her, which wounds her deeply.

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Utaha had never quite forgiven him for that…until this week, which is another showcase of Saekano’s knack for placing its characters in relatively confined, intimate places. Even Tomoya’s date with Megumi at the mall felt like it, since the crush of people made them have to stick that much closer together, and the mutual fun they were having made that crush blur and fade into the background, until it was just them.

The confined space here is more concrete: a hotel room, where Utaha was going to spend the night, but invites Tomoya in when he drenches himself in the rain in the act of what she deemed as chasing after her. It’s an assertion he can’t and won’t deny, though he wasn’t expecting to end up on a bed with Utaha, both of them in bathrobes and nothing underneath. The optics are a constant source of nervous titillation, but I frankly like how it puts the two on the spot.

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Bathrobes concealing nakedness and nervous joking aside, Tomoya cut his date with Megumi short because he now knows what doesn’t sit right with him about her first scenario draft. He didn’t like how they left things in the club room, but at the same time, were it not for his date with Megumi, he wouldn’t have been able to express his reservations anyway, which ironically reflect the positions Megumi and Utaha occupy with regards to Tomoya’s life.

Utaha’s plot is much like her plot with Tomoya thus far: seemingly bound by fate, or from a past life; something sprawling and dramatic and epic, like spending the night in a hotel room (but this is all-ages, so…) And Tomoya likes that, but he’s found he also likes what Megumi brings to the table: a steadfast decency wrapped in utter normality; the beauty of the mundane; the way a flat character can draw a reader when suddenly big suddenly happens. Megumi isn’t bland; she’s universally relatable.

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God, the timing, framing, and sound effects of this little sequence were so deliciously awesome. Utaha types away in this new direction, but she’s clearly upset by it; it’s as if the romantic ideal she represents has been suddenly usurped by Megumi. Both reality and the fiction being discussed and created are inextricably linked in this show. But Utaha and Tomoya do work all night, and the fact that she was able to summon this much passion and belt out something both of them can be proud of is a testament to the mutual inspiration I mentioned earlier.

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When Utaha gets dressed and prepares to set out for her busy day, she doesn’t hesitate to make a joke about post-evening afterglow, not to mention the fact she wickedly took a picture of her in bed with Tomoya while he was asleep and made it his background.

But while there wasn’t any of that kind of action last night, it was still a night Utaha will cherish, because it showed her, just as it showed us, that Tomoya isn’t just her muse, but has the makings of a great creator in his own right. She leaves that hotel room feeling a lot better about the two of them, but not just because of the progress they made with the plot, but in the battle for Tomoya himself.

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Rewinding to yesterday, Eriri “bumps into” Megumi at the mall and sketches her, which is clearly her way of commiserating over the fact that Utaha is off somewhere with her Tomoya. Misery loves company, so it gives her great solace to see that when properly stimulated, she’s able to pull back Megumi’s stoic mask just that little bit.

Like Utaha’s “coup” this week, this not only makes Eriri optimistic about developing a good heroine from Megumi, but also that she’s still in the running for Tomoya. Megumi is adorable, but she’s not invincible.

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