More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 07 – Okaeri, Akari

I just want to express my surprise and gratitude that Akari’s gyaru-friends Sachi and Natsumi are actually good people too! When they see Shiori with too many bags of garbage (a powerful metaphor for how accommodating and self-subordinating she is), they offer to help, even conscripting Jirou and Sadaharu when they slouch past.

When Shiori declines to carry a bag with Jirou, it’s a critical hit to his heart, but also shows their accidental kiss has left the two more awkward and distant than ever. Sachi and Natsumi can also tell that Akari must feel something for Jirou at this point, and she doesn’t deny it.

They’re not pushing her towards Jirou or Minami—in fact, they say those aren’t the only two guys in the world. They want her to be happy, and to settle on her own choice on her terms. Opportunity knocks when the girls see a poster for an upcoming fireworks festival.

Naturally, dressing Akari in her yukata is a job for her “husband”, and while her talk with her friends leads to her mentioning Minami more as she teases Jirou, the fact of the matter is, having Jirou dress her is as big a deal for her as it is for him; he just can’t see her red face since he’s behind her. It’s also telling that she says a bow-style obi tie is too “childish”—again assuming Minami only likes mature things.

Akari meets Sachi and Natsumi at the festival with her head held high, ready to take a step forward in figuring (gestures everywhere) all this out. Of course, it’s not that easy, as she’s trying to go back to a place where she’s comfortable play-acting as a wife to Jirou and she’s back to thinking only of Minami in a romantic capacity. In effect, she’s trying to go back to a place that no longer exists.

Even if spending the evening with Minami cleared things up, that opportunity is torn away from her at the last minuite, as his friends arrive Minami-less and contrite; he had to take an extra shift at work due to the festival, and was too nice to turn it down.

Sachi tries to salvage the night by having the boys buy them a bunch of snacks and sweets as penance, but after psyching herself up, Akari is rightfully deflated. To add insult to injury, she spots Minami at the festival after all, in street clothes with Shiori and in what looks like pleasant conversation.

It turns out they’re just taking the shortest route to a point where he’ll go off to work while she’ll head home. They’re not on a date, and from their scene together, there’s still no actual romantic chemistry between them. They’re simply both doing their part as partners in a practical exercise.

Of course, that’s not what it looked liked to Akari, and that’s all that matters. Her friends see her turn pale and assume she’s disappointed in not getting to be with Minami. In reality, she’s that way because she did see him. When the other boys said he wouldn’t be coming, a part of her even felt relieved.

Jirou doesn’t have to spend this night alone at home. He could have called Shiori and taken a step towards that route had he wanted; I doubt she would have refused judging from her look back after she and Minami parted. I wouldn’t really have felt bad for him if his self-imposed loneliness had endured.

However, I do feel bad that, like Akari, he’s simply not sure of anything anymore. If he and Akari are a functional and happy fake couple, he knows one day they won’t be, like when it comes time to swap partners. He worries about what they’ll be after that, and even if they’ll be anything at all.

But when he gets a call from Akari and there are only tears on the other side of the line, if he’s paying attention he’s answering his own question with his reaction: slipping on his coat and running to wherever she is. Luckily for him, that turns out to be right outside their door. As Akari sobs into her hands, she apologizes to Jirou, and by extention, everyone who worked so hard to create an opportunity for her to move forward.

She also worked hard herself, taking extra time to make her hair, nails, and makeup perfect for Minami. And yet, at the end, she just came home. Jirou dries her eyes with his sleeve, then offers a hand up, saying “Welcome home”. Akari collapses into his arms, saying “I’m home”, and has the big, wet, cathartic cry she needs to have. And only Jirou’s arms will do.

Once the tears have passed, the two stand on the balcony as the fireworks start in the distance. When she teases him more and accuses him of being jealous, he doesn’t deny it, which surprises her, but she likes it. Then she takes his hands, puts them on her obi, and asks him to make the bow he wants to make.

When he gets to a step he can’t do, she takes out her phone to find the instructional video. When it slips out of her hands, it falls into his, and she puts her hands over his and draws them close, asking him to simply hold her and say her name, again and again. If he does, she thinks she can “try again”.

Jirou remembers Akari saying how she loses her confidence sometimes, and this is definitely one of those times. In this moment, and while upside-down heart-shaped fireworks start to explode above them, Jirou does as he’s told. She thanks him for not asking what happened, but simply being there for her.

In his mind, Jirou admits he didn’t ask because he didn’t want to know. Just as Akari felt relieved when she heard Minami wouldn’t be coming, Jirou felt relieved when she came home. While he still considers their happiness in this moment to be fleeting, perhaps both he and Akari would be better-served listening to those little pangs of relief and what that means not for Minami, or Shiori, but the two of them.

This episode surpassed the previous racy couch scenes because this felt a lot more overtly romantic. The two have identified those moments of relief and want to understand them better, even as they are still on some level committed to rooting for each other with their other potential partners. Combine the beautiful visuals, lighting, and colors of these scenes with Akari’s friends being The Best and we have the best Fuukoi outing yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 05 – A Patch of Black Ice

For those girls (and guys) for whom the fiery Guel Jetark isn’t their cup of tea, they have the apparent opposite in Elan Ceres. They call him the “ice prince”, and long to melt his icy heart. If they only knew. Elan rarely duels, but he’s 7-0 after winning a 3-on-1 affair that was never close.

Elan is also working on behalf of Piel Technologies, but unlike Guel, he’s treated more employee than son to their four-woman leadership group. After winning, he surprises Suletta with a phone call … and asks her out on a date. Her Earth House girls go giddy (Chuchu excepted).

In another demonstration of how different she and Elan are, Suletta calls her mom, who is supportive of her daughter branching out and getting to know others better—the move forward, gain two ethos. But after getting off the phone with her daughter, Lady Prospera gets a report about Peil “making its move”—faster than anticipated.

Meanwhile, Elan hasn’t been talking to Suletta because she’s a friend; indeed, I do not believe he understands such a concept. He’s been pumping her for information and context on Aerial on behalf of the company he serves. We also see that he’s an “enhanced person” created for the sole purpose of piloting a Gundam.

This culminates in Suletta letting Elan into Aerial’s cockpit for a routine survey of the testing area (which is definitely an idea for a date). He observes how easily she pilots Aerial, and she says she’s never felt suffering doing so, but actually always feels at ease.

Elan then asks to pilot Aerial on his own—an astonishing ask but one Suletta happily grants because she thinks Elan’s a friend. Piloting it convinces him that Aerial is the key to “breaking the curse” of the suffering he feels every time he takes the controls of his mobile suits.

When he returns to Suletta, the kindly mask has dropped. Her usefulness to him and the faux friendship he fostered is no longer needed. Now he has the information he needs, and she’s just an annoyance, especially with her entitled belief that Aerial is “family.”

Seeing this honest side of Elan upsets Suletta, and his cold words cause her to cry. That’s just when Guel arrives, sees Suletta’s eyes, and demands to know what Elan is doing, with the answer determining whether they duel. That’s just fine with Elan. Whether he intended to use Suletta as bait or not, Guel’s timing works out perfectly.

While it’s good of Guel to stand up for Suletta, she hasn’t quite turned against the hope that Elan is a good person and a friend, so she objects to the duel, but it’s not her call: Shaddiq tells her if she doesn’t like current conditions, she’s welcome to change them in a subsequent duel.

The stakes are set: if Guel wins, Elan will stay away from Suletta from now on. If Elan wins—and I had a feeling he was going to win easily—he gets to duel Suletta. Guel’s red mobile suit is out of commission, he uses his brother Lauda’s Dilanza, even though their father forbade him from dueling.

That Guel is willing to incur more of his dear father’s wrath speaks to the genuine affection he’s gained for Suletta and his desire to keep others from making her cry. Underneath the bluster he’s an honorable guy.

But honor, like smiling, laughing, birthdays or family, is not something in Elan’s programming. Suletta’s been interacting with a doll designed to learn as much about her for his employers’ sake, as well as his own (lifting the aforementioned curse). Elan surprises all when he arrives at the duel in a new suit—the Pharact. It’s a menacing, bat-like suit with its own drone swarm system.

It looks every bit like the dark sibling of Suletta’s Aerial. Guel is mad as hell, and kicks up a lot of dust in the dueling ground. This unwittingly creates the conditions by which he is defeated: the dust, charged with static electricity, gets into the gaps and joints in Dilanza’s armor.

Elan’s drones create laser-like webs that in concert with the dust Guel himself kicked up, has the effect of an EMP, shutting down Dilanza’s systems and leaving him immobilized. Elan takes an easy win, and the Peil Group’s engineer (and Elan’s minder) confronts Lady Prospera, who concludes there was “another witch all along.” The Peil woman addresses her as senpai, suggesting she was part of the same research group that developed Aerial.

Elan again makes a prompt phone call to Suletta, to arrange another “date.” This time, it will take the form of an official school duel, and if he wins, he will claim Aerial for himself. And this, folks, is why Suletta should have probably listened to everyone telling her to stay away from people from the three branches—including Guel, someone from those branches.

Now, I can’t imagine Suletta will lose to Elan next week—especially if Miorine lends a hand, nor to I believe Aerial will fall into the hands of a rival company. The only question is whether Suletta, who is no doubt still confused and hurt by Elan’s treatment of her, can switch gears and do what needs to be done to defeat her most implacable enemy yet.

As for Elan? I’ll admit to hating him more than Guel now, but I also understand the kid has suffered his whole life, is looking for release, and the only thing in his way is a silly girl who calls a Gundam “family”, a word that’s meaningless to him since he never had one.

In Elan Ceres, Peil created an organic machine to pilot their metal one. But Suletta is, if nothing else, an ordinary human fueled her whole life by love and support. That should prove the edge in this duel.

Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury – 04 – New Friends from the Third Rock

Suletta responds to Guel’s proposal, on which he immediately tries to backpedal, as you’d expect: running back into her Gundam and booking it out of there. The next day she arrives at class in the standard Asticassia uniform, but Miorine quickly changes it to her white Holder uni; she should proudly wear it, along with the title of holder and her groom.

After duels and legal hearings, it’s finally time for Suletta to participate in actual practical exams, one of which involves traversing terrain and avoiding simulated mines. Chuatury Panlunch, the giant pink pom-pom-haired Earthian, is sabotaged by slow-acting blackout spray, underscoring the oppression and discrimination of her people by the Spacians.

As for Suletta, she fails before she even starts, because she has neither a mechanic or a spotter to assist her with the exam. When she asks around, she finds no one will help her lest they get on the Jeturks’ bad side. Nika can’t help her either since she already has to assist Chuatury, AKA Chuchu, but introduces her to her Earth house and to other mechanics who can help.

Following Nika’s lead, the other Earthians are nice to her, but when Chuchu arrives she flies into a rage at having a “Spacian turd” in her house, Suletta is forced to flee. Elan later offers to help Suletta, but Miorine arrives and warns her that he’s bad news: just another corporate executive’s son trying to win her hand (which he denies).

Still, Miorine won’t hear of Suletta availing herself of Elan’s assistance; not when she has her. To Suletta’s surprise, Miorine is both willing and able to perform both mechanic and spotter roles, as she’s read the necessary manuals. To get their ducks in a row, Miorine invites Suletta to her makeshift apartment, which was once her dad’s office.

While it’s obvious that Miorine is a bit of a slob (she no doubt grew up with servants cleaning up after her), inviting Suletta to her home is a lowkey gesture of trust and intimacy. But she can see her groom has a lot of studying to do if she’s going to make it. That night, we also see another side of Chuchu, as she contacts her family and friends back home. They’re being cracked down on by the Spacians, but they urge her to worry about her studies and leave those Earthly troubles to them.

Also that night, Miorine wakes up to find Suletta still hard at work studying, and asks her why she’s working so hard. Suletta says she has a dream to start a school on Mercury that will bring more offworlders there. She also mentions how her friends and family there are all counting on her to succeed. Miorine doesn’t see why Suletta doesn’t just live for herself, but Suletta insists she wants to “carry the burden” for her Mercurian people.

The big day of Suletta’s make-up exam comes, and we see that the same two girls who blacked out Chuchu’s windshield do the same thing to Suletta. Chuchu calls Miorine and Suletta “Spacian turds” again but Miorine tells her she’s no different than Spacians who discriminate against Earthians if she’s prejudiced against two people she doesn’t even know.

The examiners don’t allow the exam to be suspended since exterior inspection is part of the exam, so when Suletta’s screens go black Miorine has to be her eyes, upping the difficulty level significantly. She can re-try the exam as many times as she wants, but after failing five straight times, Suletta has a crisis of confidence and bursts into tears.

When Miorine tries to coax Suletta into trying again, she appeals to her obligation to her fellow Mercurians back home, and Chuchu hears this while she watches the two saboteur girls yukking it up. While Suletta may have been the enemy that morning, now she’s someone Chuchu will throw hands for, sucker punching one of the girls and starting a huge fight.

Suletta and Nika break up the fight, and the end result is simply that Suletta and Chuchu will have to take another make-up exam. Chuchu says Suletta’s the reason for her failure, but when Nika officially invites Suletta to join their Earth house, Chuchu doesn’t stand in the way—as long as Suletta calls her senpai.

Suletta is such a kind and gentle soul it was only a matter of time before she met similarly-minded folks at school who wanted to be friends with her. Chuchu definitely has a chip on her shoulder, but sees that with Suletta not all Spacians are turds; some are just like her: someone into whom a lot of people back home placed their earnest hopes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 11 – A Mess Under the Hood

Ahhh, is there anything nicer than a scene of two lovebirds talking on the phone just to hear each other’s voices? That’s how the episode starts, and it’s like being wrapped in a warm, fluffy blanket. So serene…but also so bittersweet. After the credits the Iridous have arrived at their relatives’ country house, and Yume meets Mizuto’s second cousin, who happens to be an absolute babe—a megane babe, at that!

When the fam hits the river for a barbecue, Madoka again compliments Yume’s figure and swimsuit, while also noting she’s “watched over” Mizuto since kindergarten. Mizuto is off in the shade reading and being antisocial, as always, but Yume learns that when his mom died, he and his dad must have endured a good bit of hardship, making her that much more determined to protect their new family by rejecting her feelings.

Later that night Yume enters the study of Mizuto’s late great-grandad’s study to tell him the bath’s ready, and finds him reading an old book entitled The Siberian Dancing Girl. Mizuto notes that it is his great-grandad’s autobiography of when he was interned in Siberia. It was the first book he ever read start to finish, and reads it every year he comes to his relatives.

He invites her to read it, and she takes him up on the offer, reading it through in one sitting. By the end, she’s in tears, and notices an old dried tear right next to her fresh one. She can’t help but feel closer to Mizuto, having now read the book that shaped him, which no one else but the two of them have ever read.

The next day, Madoka has laid out yukatas for the fireworks festival, and notices Yume sighing profusely. She quickly diagnoses it as Yume being in love with Mizuto and…Yume can’t necessarily refute that! Instead, she opens up a little to Madoka, who proves surprisingly deft at analyzing Yume’s whole deal, invalidating her feelings and trying to find excuses not to be with Mizuto

Madoka also figures the only thing for it is some direct action. To that end, she finagles things so Yume ends up alone in a relatively small, dark room with Mizuto for at least a half-hour. She figures that should be enough time for Yume to build up the courage to say what she wants to say and then say it.

At first, all Yume can do is look forlorn and say “Mizuto”, but in her head the words are streaming like the river she sat beside. She recalls the weight off her shoulders when they broke up, but she’s full of regret over things she never did that she should have, like call him over the summer, or sharing Christmas and Valentines with him.

It turns out, Mizuto doesn’t have to hear Yume say any of these things. It’s all in her face, and in the tears that start to fall. So he calls her as Ayai—which was just her old last name but sounds so much more intimate when he says it—and says that just this once, they can go back in time. So they embrace, and just hold one another until it’s dark out. They’re not pretending, they’re just being two people, not collections of ideals.

When Yume tells him how she figured Madoka was his first love, he immediately shoots that down; he never had feelings for her. He then tosses a jab at her—something about having so much good for her “on paper” but being a “mess under the hood.” He then says her nose is running, and she reacts, only for him to be kidding. That makes her laugh, which allows him to tell her who his actual first love was without saying it. He just says she loved to laugh. She still does!

I’m officially convinced that this show suffers from a terrible title, especially the English translation. All it does is tell you the surface scenario: step mom, daughter, ex. This is about that, but it’s also about so much more, about everything that came before that, and has managed to make something so wacky on paper incredibly moving and compelling under the hood.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 23 – Super Sakurasawa Practice Partner Part III

All Hail Sumi, High Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar Rental Girlfriends. She has Chizuru ask Kazuya if he’ll spend another day with her under the pretense of a “practice date”. In truth, we know Sumi has big birthday plans for Kazuya, and this is a part of that. Also, she’s clearly crushing on the guy. She even wears a school uniform because she thinks he’s into that!

At first the date has an almost breathless pace to it, such that Kazuya and Sumi both are short on breath, but perhaps that’s Sumi’s way of making sure she stays ahead of her jackhammering heart. Unfortunately, watching Kazuya totally geek out over marine life is all too endearing for her.

When she miscalculates the distance to sit for the dolphin show and they get soaked, she feels down for failing as the guide on their date, but Kazuya sweetly lifts that burden by telling her he’s having fun and getting wet is part of the fun of a dolphin show. He also offers her his shirt, as her blouse has gone see-through.

Sumi simply brings out the best in everyone she’s around, Kazuya included. It’s easy to label her a cutie pie, but that label belies an iron strength of will that allows her to cut through her shyness and taciturnity and present her crush with a birthday gift: a hand-knit hat. That same willpower has her grasping Kazuya’s hand when she knows something’s troubling him and tells him he can tell her.

He does, and unloads about Chizuru (without using her name) and how he’s distraught that he can’t do anything about the pain she’s clearly in. It turns out to be a major cathartic moment for Kazuya, as both he and Sumi simply hold hands and cry it out at a spot in Odaiba with a view of Rainbow Bridge.

That extended cry is something he’s never shared with the other girls, and leads to him having a eureka moment at episode’s end about what to do for Chizuru. Naturally, I feel awful that Sumi’s feelings will ultimately be unrequited, and AS next week’s episode is the last, we might not see her at all. But like all good things, it’s best to just enjoy a Sumi date while it lasts. And hopefully it’s spurred Kazuya to finally take some decisive action.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Devil is a Part Timer!! – S2 E02 – Bringing Up Apple Baby

Alas Ramus is an Ente Isla name, but while that’s her apparent origin, the reason for the child suddenly appearing and imprinting upon Maou and Emi as her Mama and Papa remains a mystery throughout the episode. But since this circle of frenemies is made of kind and decent people, the mystery (and the ramifications of whether she really is Maou and Emi’s offspring) are secondary to the need for Alas Ramus to be cared for.

Those unable to take the child in give good reasons, while Suzuno steps up, citing her extensive childrearing experience. But Maou decides that his “castle” will be her home, even if he isn’t sure he has what it takes to be a dad (nor Ashiya and Urushihara her uncles).

Chiho doesn’t like the prospect of Maou having a kid with someone who isn’t her (eventually, in the future, mind you) but when her friend at school asks her how her confession went and she wonders if Maou can’t see her as an equal but only someone to be protected, she takes it upon herself to be the best goshdarn auntie she can be.

When she arrives at Maou’s Ashiya is looking gaunt after Alas cried basically all night. He is also genuinely grateful from the bottom of his heart that Chiho showd up with all the necessities one needs to take care of a young toddler. At her job, Emi is pressed by Suzuki about this new child in her life, and under duress produces the line of the episode: “It’s not like that! Um, I mean, it kind of is? But it’s not!”

Rika can tell that Emi is actually fired up about hanging out with this kid and offers her some free amusement park tickets. Meanwhile, Big Sis Chi and Suzu arrive at MgRonald with Alas in Chi’s arms, it looks to everyone in the shop that she’s holding her and Maou’s love child. Kisaki effortlessly holds Alas in her arms and takes them into the back room.

She’s not mad, just concerned: she knows Maou and Chiho are good kids, but society thoughtlessly leaps to conclusions fast, so she warns against doing anything that will cause rumors that might make things unpleasant or even harmful to them. When they’re on their own, though, Maou earnestly asks Chiho if he can keep relying on her, the only human in Japan he can trust. Chiho, realizing he doesn’t just see her as a damsel, is moved to happy tears.

When Kisaki presents Maou with three amusement park tickets, he and Emi end up with six—enough that even if the two of them take Alas for a day of fun while playing the roles of her parents, others are able to tag along and observe…and they do. Emi also makes it a point to hit up the salon and dress up to the nines for the “big day.”

Ashya and Chiho encounter each other fortuitously and decide to combine their recon efforts; they’re soon joined by Suzuki, who took off work for what she expects to be one hell of a cute “family date”. But the trip to the amusement park is almost sure to be interrupted by a guy I’m assuming to be Gabriel, who heads through a gate with several guards on a mission to restore the “Tree of Life” to its “proper form”. He must be talking about Alas Ramus, whose names mean “wing” and “branch.”

Classroom of the Elite – S2 02 – Kei the Lamprey

Unsurprisingly, Koenji makes the biggest splash of the test by apparently discovering the true VIP, resulting in Jupiter Group’s test concluding. Hirata gets a rumor that Kushida is a VIP. Horikita and Ayanokouji meet in an area of the ship heavy with lovey-dovey couples. Ryuuen proposes the other three classes ally against A, but Horikita isn’t having it.

They determine that uniting Class D is the best move they’ve got, using Kei and her “powerful sense of presence”. Kei is still recovering from her shower breakdown, calling herself a “parasite”, while Ayanokouji gets unexpectedly hugged by Kushida, who is feelingly lonely due to all being around all of the couples.

As the teachers drink in a private bar, Hoshinomiya-sensei asks Chabashira-sensei how Ayanokouji ended up the leader at the end of the Island test, but Chibashira is tight-lipped. Ayanokouji happens to be in the vicinity when Karuizawa meets with Hirata, who tells her that there are limits to what he can do to help her.

This angers Karuizawa, but Hirata tells her this is the way it’s always been since they started fake-dating. Karuizawa got a boost in popularity and a degree of protection, but Hirata won’t help her settle grudges, even as he later tells Ayanokouji he sympathizes with the perennially bullied Karuizawa.

Mars Group’s third and fourth discussions come and go without much of any progress being made, with Karuizawa hanging out with the first-years and flirting with Machida. After the fourth discussion, Karuizawa  is followed out by Shiho and her two cronies, who corner her in a hallway. Yukimura and Ayanokouji follow just in case.

When Shiho & Co. start getting nasty with a Kei who is increasingly breaking down, Ayanokouji tells Yukimura not to intervene too soon; he wants to gather as much research as he can on Kei before “tainting the experiment”, so to speak.

Two episodes in, and I must admit I’m respecting CoE more than I’m actually enjoying it. There’s definitely something clever in the works, but I can’t deny that there are some pretty dull stretches—even those possibly containing key clues. It doesn’t help that the show simply doesn’t look that good, though the soundtrack makes up for that a bit.

Classroom of the Elite – S2 01 – Strife on Mars

Do you like enormous casts of people mostly acting standoffish and suspicious of one another as they navigate school tests with rules that read like stereo instructions? Well, your five year wait is over: the kids are off the damn island and back on the boat, but a new Special Test that threatens all the strides Class D made is waiting for them.

After an uneasy interaction between Ayanokouji Kiyotaka and Karuizawa Kei involving Hirata (who wants Ayano to join them, but Kei objects), Ayano and Kei end up at the same table anyway, as two of the four Class D reps in Mars, one of eight groups named after planets.

There are a lot of rules, and it’s almost impossible to summarize easily, but I’ll try: there are four outcomes, each of which has specific pros and cons to either the individual, their group, or their class. Four possible outcomes involves who guesses who the VIP is, when, and whether they’re correct. A lot of private and class points are on the table.

Of course, a lot of personalities and loyalties are on the table too. Having each group made up of three students each from Classes A and B and four students each of C and D creates an enticing imbalance; Ayano’s Mars Group’s Class A decides right from the get go that they’re abstaining from all discussions in order to avoid the worst case scenario.

Class B’s idol Ichinose Honami insists that the best way forward is together (even if she ultimately intends to stab some folks in the back). Ayano can’t be 100% neutral, as even saying he’d “like to cooperate” is taking a stand against Class A and its leader Machida Kouji.

After Mars Group’s first unproductive meeting, the three Class C girls gang up on Karuizawa, accusing her of bullying their classmate. She says she has no idea what or who they’re talking about, but when they try to snap her picture she quickly becomes upset. Machida helps Karuizawa and tells the C-girls to buzz off, earning Karuizawa’s cutest smile.

Mars’ second meeting of Day 1 is just as unproductive as the first, with Class A gumming up the works with their refusal to discuss…anything. Even when she says they should just relax and shoot the breeze, it seems like Ichinose is carrying out some kind of strategy. As for Karuizawa, she seems normal enough at the meeting, but that night breaks down into a sobbing mess in the shower.

Continuing as if five years were merely a week, CoE returns to its distinctive blend of clashing personalities and motivations, split loyalties, and absurdly complicated rules (Karuizawa even gets the line of the episode: “I’m not sure I followed all that.” With the necessary setup of this new test out of the way, perhaps next week will be a little more exciting.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 08 – Stroke of Noon

Izumi learns a lot of new things about his library buddy Kamiya during their quiet library rest area shifts…except what she’s thinking the whole time. That she’s an idiot for “waiting around” and not taking the initiative when he was still single; that she’s a bad person for having such feelings for someone whose heart belongs to another.

When Nekozaki asks if they can trade numbers, Kamiya does so with her usual quiet smile, but holds on just a little bit before letting it go: a wonderfully animated moment. Shikimori notices that hesitation, and also a measure of the pain hiding behind Kaimya’s smile. Kamiya’s face does a lot of heavy lifting this week.

Kamiya puts her hair up returns to her fawning fans, but soon the din of praise and speculation about her grows deafening, and she just can’t be there anymore. The cool beauty is overheating in that gaggle, and especially doesn’t want to hear people praise her when she feels like the biggest, worst loser ever.

Kamiya is soon joined on the roof, under a cloudy sky that matches her mood, by Shikimori, who offers back the number along with an apology. Now that she knows how Kamiya feels, trading with her feels cruel, and she doesn’t want to be cruel to anyone who likes Izumi, because no one who likes who she likes could ever be bad.

We’ve seen jealous Shikimori before, but Empathetic Shikimori is a far superior mode. While admitting she might seem “high and mighty”, she owns that 100% and assures Kamiya that nothing of what she’s feeling is wrong, and she shouldn’t feel compelled to bottle it up or throw it away for her sake.

Suddenly faced with the second person not to put her on a pedestal but simply let her be her (after Izumi, a large part of his appeal for her), Kamiya is overcome and lets those feelings flow out, sobbing uncontrollably. Shikimori does what you’d expect her to: draw the taller Kamiya into a warm, supportive hug.

Kamiya walks away from the experience glad that Izumi is with someone like Shikimori, and ready to move forward not in denial but in full acknowledgement of her feelings for him. But later that night, after the after-party when Izumi gives Shikimori a birthday/anniversary present, Shikimori feels weary.

She’s not weary specifically of Kamiya, but she’s a symptom of a larger problem on the horizon that she fears: that so many people will see what she’s seen in him all along, he’ll drift further and further away from her. She doesn’t want him to change, but she’s worrying too much.

Izumi credits much of his change for the better to Shikimori, and he’s not done changing and getting stronger she she can smile and relax and not worry about a grand piano falling out of the sky and onto her boyfriend. Hearing that he wants the exact same she does makes her start bawling like a baby.

One might think this means Izumi is singularly capable of tearing down Shikimori’s badass poise, but they’d be wrong. Shikimori is cool precisely because she’s not afraid to cry big sloppy tears over her love of Izumi. It’s a new high point for this pair of splendidly sweet, honest lovebirds.

SAKUGAN – 12 (FIN) – THICKER THAN BLOOD

The Big Twist that starts the SAKUGAN finale is that Memenpu actually is a “Rainbow Child”, a child with an exceptionally advanced brain. This not only explains why she’s a genius, but what the “place in her dream” is all about: it was never a dream, it was a memory. Rainbow Children retain vivid memories even from their infancy. As Rainbow Children were bred to be the guardians of the Labyrinth, they are anathema to Shibito, who want them all dead.

Fortunately, Muro’s boss doesn’t let her kill Memenpu right away, even though it’s debatable what if anything he intends to do with her before killing her. This gives the remaining members of Team Memenpu the time they need to zero in on her location and rescue her. It’s definitely a team effort, with Yuri using a second-hand computer in a store to guide Gagumber and Zackletu, then Zack distracting both Shibito and the Bureau with sheer ballistic chaos.

Gagumber locates Memenpu, but by then she’s been placed in a bell jar, which soon shatters due to the Animus dripping on top of it. Memenpu seems to be immune to its deleterious effects due to her Rainbow-ness. But by the time her pops arrives, Muro’s boss (I don’t believe we got his name) has convinced Memenpu that she has no father. Whether their surroundings were meant to evoke that same father-y scene from Empire, I don’t know.

All’s I know is, this Shibito guy is a huge prick for messing with Memenpu’s head, and for all her advanced intellect, Memenpu betrays just how sensitive and naïve she his, simply accepting the guy’s words about Gagumber not being her father. She even puts herself between the guy and Gagumber, offering up herself in exchange for her not-dad’s safety.

Gagumber, rightfully so, says fuck that, treading through the shallow pool of Animus to reach Memenpu, melting away his boots and burning his feet. He tells her he is, always was, and always will be her father, and she is, always was, and always will be his daughter. Whatever she wants to do and wherever it leads them, he’ll be by her side on her journey. Memenpu, realizing she does have a dad in Gagumber after all, has herself a good cry in his arms.

Seemingly moved by this dramatic and cathartic exchange, the Shibito boss decides to let Memenpu and Gagumber go…for now. Gagumber recharges Big Tony and they take the shortest route back to Dream Colony proper—by drilling through the colony’s retaining wall. There, Gagumber zeroes in on Muro and blasts her through a hole in the floor for making his daughter cry.

There’s a ceremony honoring Team Memenpu hosted by Merooro, but when he produces arrest warrants and the team is surrounded by Bureau cops and bots, Memenpu unleashes a cloud of purple smoke from Tony and the quartet escapes with the Bureau in hot pursuit. Not sure why Merooro held a ceremony just to arrest them, but whatevs.

Back on the Labyrinth “road”, Memenpu leads her team on their original mission: to find the place in her dreams, come what may. It’s what she truly wants to do, and that’s more than enough for Gagumber to accompany her, and by extension Zack and Yuri. It’s been fun watching this found family iron out their warts and beat the bad guys…fun enough that I’ll likely give the expected second season a watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 13 – #aquadulting

We return to Aquatope with Kukuru in a new apartment, in a smart pantsuit, saying her usual prayer (this time to her parents’ shrine), starting her very first day at the brand-spankin’-new Aquarium Tingaara. Umi-yan and Kuuya are already working there, while Kai is in the same group of new hires as she is. But while Kai is assigned to the fish team, Kukuru is assigned to…marketing.

The director has high hopes for her in PR, where Karin is already working. Have you ever, due to various circumstances, ended up in a job you had no idea you’d be doing? Well, that was me about five months ago, and it’s Kukuru here.

Working at an aquarium, but not tending to the marine life? It almost seems like a cruel joke, and Kukuru doesn’t get it. That said, when Karin frees her from the mountains of manuals her director Suwa gave her and takes her on a tour of the modern, impressive facilities, the little kid in Kukuru immediately resurfaces. (This still, by the way, is my new desktop wallpaper, the previous one being the sky after the typhoon).

But she gradually learns that kid has no place at Tingaara. Here, not even Umi-yan can keep ice pops in the feed freezer. Gama Gama was loosy-goosy, and a lot of outsiders like Suwa and Chiyu (who is magnificently smug throughout this episode) believe that had a lot to do with its failure. Tingaara is a strict, by-the-book, professional enterprise, perhaps wound a bit too tightly.

Even so, after dinner at the restaurant where Udon is now working and training, Kai reminds her that Fuuka dove into the world she knew nothing about when she started working at Gama Gama. He himself didn’t originally really want to work there, but did so because he wanted to help her, and eventually came to like it. He thinks if she tries something new and sticks with it, she might have a change of heart.

Reinvigorated by his words, Kukuru goes back to work with her head held high, doing the work that’s in front of her. It seems like preparations are ready for a behind-the-scenes tour Suwa assigned to her, but as he puts it in a very public dressing-down in the office, she really only did the work she knew how to do. He suggests she cease relying on experience working at a failed aquarium and nicknames her Plankton…smaller than small fry.

After getting chewed out and again having her commitment and seriousness questioned by Chiyu, Kukuru leaves the aquarium exhausted and discouraged, declining Karin’s dinner offer and instead sitting on the beach alone. She starts to cry, not knowing how much more of life at Tingaara she can take.

Then, out of nowhere, Fuuka arrives, precisely when Kukuru needed her the absolute most. While they were still together in last week’s episode, the way Aquatope totally turned Kukuru’s life on it’s head and everything she endured made it feel like months had passed…which indeed they did! All of that also makes their reunion that much more heartwarming.

Kukuru has had a rough couple of days, but there’s a reason Tingaara’s director assigned her the role he did. Hopefully seeing Fuuka will remind Kukuru of how rough she was on her in her first days at Gama Gama, and how Fuuka didn’t give up, and ended up thriving.

Tingaara may seem like a cold, cruel, nasty, grown-up place—or at least most of the humans who aren’t Kukuru’s circle make it feel that way—but that doesn’t mean it will stay that way. Kukuru may struggle and fail a lot more before she finds the right wavelength in which to thrive, but I’m excited to watch her find it!

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