Fruits Basket – 08 – All is Quiet on New Year’s Day

Everyone has somewhere to be for the New Year’s holiday…everyone but Tooru, whose parents are dead and whose remaining family is off to Hawaii. Yet no matter how hard Uo and Hana try to invite them to their places, she insists she’ll be fine, and that they should spend the time with their families.

After reveling in winter cleaning with the Soumas, Tooru learns the three are headed to the main house for the big banquet and other festivities. Tooru, not being a Souma, is not invited, but she’s content to hold the fort at Shigure’s house, even though it will mean ringing in the new year all alone.

Despite her insistence she’ll be fine, Yuki and Kyou are uneasy the whole time they’re en route to the main house. They know her well enough (it’s been four months) to know she can be a bit of a space cadet, and is prone to accidents. What if she gets hurt and no one is there to help her?

Shigure finds the two young lads’ worrying about her like their baby chick to be most entertaining, and so stirs the pot by saying there’s a burglar in their neighborhood who has yet to be caught. The final straw is when they run into Saki, who very simply and concisely asks them to consider how she’s feeling all alone at their house for New Years; to put themselves in her shoes, knowing both what she’s been through.

Yuki and Kyou bump heads rushing back home to her, cursing themselves for not realizing they accepted Tooru’s polite insistence far too easily. Saying you’re fine being alone and being fine alone are not the same thing, even with Tooru. Their suspicions are confirmed when they arrive to find her holding her mother’s portrait and crying while listening to Enka music on the telly.

Wondering what the heck happened, an exhausted Yuki and Kyou collapse to the floor and say, simply, “I’m home”…and Tooru tears right back up, only they’re tears of joy. Despite always smiling on the outside, Tooru is not always happy and cheerful on the inside; the lads were right not to leave her alone on the holiday; she’s happiest when she’s with people she cares about.

Shigure meets with Hatori, Hatsuhare, and Momiji, informing them Yuki and Kyou have skipped. Hatsuhare can understand, as he himself contemplates running from things he’d rather not engage in. But Shigure tells him this wasn’t about running away from Akito (in Yuki’s case) or Kagura (in Kyou’s); not this time.

Instead, it was about running to someone, someone both in greater need and more deserving of their presence. That’s hammered home when Shigure checks in on a morose Akito. Shigure is actually glad to see the family head reaping what he sowed. Shigure is the one harboring Yuki and Kyou during their self-exile, after all; it makes sense he’d be on their side with this…situation.

Meanwhile, by spending New Years with Tooru, keeping her company, sharing mochi (and chewing carefully!), and finally climbing up the roof together to watch the gorgeous first sun rise out of the horizon, the guilt Yuki and Kyou initially felt about abandoning their formal family obligations eventually melts away.

No, Yuki and Kyou needed Tooru every bit as much as Tooru needed them. Far from being a night they’ll regret, it turns out to be a night—and morning—the three of them won’t soon forget. They get to see Tooru smile without a hint of weariness hidden behind it as she looks forward to another year with two of the four people (along with Uo and Saki) most important in her life; her real family.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 21 – What About Us?

I’ve never been particularly interested in 3DK’s longstanding ticking clock on Hikari and Iroha’s relationship. It’s a two-dimensional source of drama and dread on a show that’s proven itself capable of developing nuanced solutions to conflicts that rise organically from its cast of 3D characters.

Case in point: 3DK invested so much time and loving care to bringing Ishino and Takanashi together, yet the biggest threat to Hikari and Iroha’s relationship remains frustratingly murky.

There’s nothing unclear about the statuses of their friends, however: Ishino x Takanashi is very public, while Itou confirms to Hikari that he and Ayado made love. It’s quite on point for Itou to cry tears of joy afterwards, as well as to tell Hikari that it probably has changed his world, but a lot more changes are to come as he and Ayado share more experiences.

I kinda wish we’d gotten more of Ayado’s perspective—perhaps telling Ishino or Iroha about it—but still, kudos to the show for being both unambiguous and tasteful in the portrayal of a very common milestone in young people’s lives.

As their final year in high school begins to draw to a close, Takanashi, Ishino and Itou are all thinking about their futures…while Hikari hasn’t. Why would he? The future, to him, is just a place where there’s no Iroha.

Better to make the most of the present lest he come away with regrets. For Hikari, this means blowing off career surveys, studying and even some classes to spend maximum time with Iroha.

A side-effect of all the dating is a precipitous drop in his grades, something he keeps from both Itou and Iroha until the former hears it from the teacher. Like any best friend as kind as he is, Itou is concerned about Hikari, and urges him to be mindful of finding a school/romance balance.

However, Hikari doesn’t want to tell Itou why he’s neglecting his studies. He doesn’t want to tell Itou that Iroha is moving in a month, because that will only make that move—that future without her—more real.

Instead of getting back to his studies, Hikari takes Iroha out on more and more dates, even as she gets increased pressure from Mabuchi (the doctor) to stop what she’s doing presumably due to an undisclosed medical condition…but we just don’t absolutely know for sure!

One thing’s for sure: frolicking on a frigid beach in October isn’t going to help that condition…and I’d be very surprised if one or both of them didn’t come down with a cold next week.

But fine: Hikari doesn’t know the truth, and neither do we. Iroha doesn’t know about his bad grades until Itou tells her, and when she pulls out what she thinks are his notebooks for studying, they’re filled with things he’s planned for them to do together.

Seeing this note makes Iroha cry, because Hikari is planning a future for them that may not be possible. When he comes back with warm drinks, she tells him she lied: she’s not going to transfer schools. But that still doesn’t explain if and why they’ll separated in a month’s time.

Then again, perhaps Hikari’s request to his mom to loan him a large sum of money from his mom, and both his and Iroha’s reluctance to “go home” means they’re going to run away together, finally taking charge of their future.

But if Iroha’s real circumstances are so serious she’s yet to breathe a word of them to the man she loves, out of a reluctance to hurt him, what if those circumstances worsen, and there’s no longer any way to hide them…or avoid hurting Hikari anyway?

Iroduku: The World in Colors – 10 – Diving In

As a result of Shou confessing to Hitomi, she and Asagi find themselves “at odds”, as he puts it (naturally he has no idea why, the big dolt). But neither of them want to keep not talking to each other. So Hitomi doesn’t give up trying to reach out to Asagi, and the two end up making up pretty quickly and easily once Asagi works through her frustrations as more her own fault that Hitomi’s.

After all, someone who’s known Shou as long as she has should know full well how direct and clear she has to be, and she hasn’t been, leading to him seeking love elsewhere. No matter how obvious it may seem to her that she’s in love with Shou, it’s ultimately up to her to make it known to him beyond doubt. Besties once more, Asagi and Hitomi scarf down some healing parfaits and then partake in therapeutic karaoke with Kurumi and Kohaku.

The next day, Kohaku announces the magical presentation which will be her contribution to the club for the festival. She intends, with Hitomi’s help, to transport visitors into a drawing; specifically, one of Yuito’s fantastical pastels. But Kohaku makes it clear to Hitomi she can’t do it without her. Hitomi has a special ability to reach into the heart of the artist (in this case Yuito’s), and has faith she’ll be able to do it. All it will take is dedication to the goal, discipline, and practice, practice, practice.

First she sends one paper airplane into a Seurat painting on the computer. Then two, then five, then one for every member of the club, in under three minutes. Kohaku may have asked a lot of Hitomi, but she knows how powerful Hitomi’s magic is, as well as how it’s been dormant much of her life. It’s time to let it out to stretch its legs, and once Hitomi gets it, it’s as invigorating for her as it is exciting for her granny.

Yuito completes his drawing—one with a theme park aesthetic that combines all of the club members’ disparate requests—and Hitomi and Kohaku successfully transport everyone inside. For the first time, Hitomi and her friends can see the same colors at the same time.

It’s a glorious sequence, diving into the drawing, and reminded me more and more of the similarly trippy What Dreams May Come, which starts out all vivid and lush and slowly grows more dark and menacing as its protagonist descends into the bowels of the hereafter.

Hitomi and Yuito are enjoying a lovely stroll in the forest when he spots his neon fish and follows it into a dark corner of the painting. Before long, he finds a stone statue of a seated, forlorn Hitomi, then gets shut into an even deeper darker chamber where he finds a young and even more forlorn Hitomi drawing sad monochromatic pictures of a princess and queen seemingly perpetually separated by a deep black boundary.

No matter how hard Yuito tries to cheer up this illusory ‘lil Hitomi, she rejects his attempts as unwanted and futile. Nothing can cross that black boundary. She doesn’t know why; she just knows you…just can’t. When Yuito snaps back into reality with everyone else outside the picture, Hitomi finds herself suddenly crying.

Clearly, just as Hitomi was able to reach into Yuito’s heart and bring his drawing to life for everyone to share in, Yuito’s drawing drew out a part of Hitomi. Now that he’s seen it, he’s not just going to pretend he didn’t.

She and Yuito go to their vantage point and talk through it. Yuito brings uncomfortable things up Hitomi would rather be left unsaid, right up until she’s shouting for him to stop already, but she realizes he’s trying to help and so she talks, for the first time, about how things were.

Hitomi’s mother was the first Tsukishiro woman in a long, long time who had no magical ability, but Hitomi had plenty. She believes her having magic is the reason her mother suddenly left, and blames and curses herself for not calling out to her. Yuito rightly assures her that Hitomi shouldn’t feel responsible just because she had magic and her mother didn’t, and rather than shoulder all the blame, it’s okay for her to be angry.

Hitomi’s guilt over the abilities she was born with led to her hatred of, and turning of her back on, magic. Until now, of course. Even without her mother around, she’s not alone. She has friends who care about her and are amazed and moved and made happier by the magical gifts Kohaku is helping her hone. And perhaps that’s why her grandmother sent her to the past to begin with: to show her that her magic is a blessing, not a burden.

Hanebado! – 13 (Fin) – The Other Side of the Net

Hanebado! seemed to take a bit of a nosedive in critical reception as it progressed, with most of the criticism centering on writing perceived as poor and character reactions and attitudes that were too often over-the-top or unrealistic.

Frankly, neither of these things ever bothered me, because the primary draw for me was always watching two players slap the shit out of a birdie (or shuttlecock, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). Ayano and Nagisa close out their match, and the show, doing just that.

As such, the animation of the match and of the character’s reactions grows ever more dramatic and stylized throughout the roller coaster of an episode. Ayano crawls all the way back, and Nagisa and her knee seem poised to crumble before the might of her opponent’s honed talent.

Coach Tachibana looks ready to pounce at any moment should Nagisa desire to end the match to possibly preserve her career; to lose to live to fight another day. But she doesn’t give up, nor does she let her knee stop her from hanging in there against Ayano.

After several end-of-match deuces (ties), it gets to the point that even Ayano’s body starts to give out. Indeed, when Nagisa’s winning point is scored, securing the narrowest of victories, Ayano’s racket flies right out of her hand and hits one of the net posts.

Once Nagisa realizes she’s won, she bursts into tears right there on the court, while an exhausted Ayano is helped off by her senpais, and takes that opportunity to thank them for supporting her, something that catches them off guard, since she was such an unapologetic bitch to them not too long ago!

Even though Ayano lost, she doesn’t feel like she’s going to be abandoned, nor that it’s the end of the world. Rather, both she and Nagisa realized during the match that they both love and play badminton because it’s fun; and it’s never more fun than when you’re playing such a close match against someone on or around your level.

Ayano and Nagisa might just represent the two peaks of their respective corners (talent and hard work), though it’s also clear that Nagisa has plenty of talent (otherwise she wouldn’t have beaten Ayano, period), while Ayano works plenty hard (otherwise she wouldn’t have had the stamina to almost knock Nagisa off).

Ayano also confronts her mother and states that she hated her, past-tense, because she thought she was abandoned for not having any talent. Uchika repeats her offer to bring Ayano back with her to Denmark, but Ayano wishes to remain in Japan, where she intends to keep playing and keep getting better. Uchika is impressed and moved by her daughter’s words.

As friends Riko and Nagisa share a post-victory moment of friendship, Ayano also takes the time to thank her friend Erena for always standing by her side, as well as for persuading her to get back into badminton.

When Ayano and Nagisa next meet, the latter is being told to take things easy, what with her patellar tendinitis. But Ayano immediately challenges her to a match. She quickly switches back to “Evil Ayanon”, but not out of straight-up malice; her intention to inspire Nagisa, not provoke her.

It’s also a way of acknowledging Nagisa’s skill; trash talk aside, Ayano wouldn’t play someone she believed wasn’t worth playing. And so the two arrange to practice together more and more in preparation for the inter-high tournament. After all, the person on the other side of the net is a “reflection of themselves”. Beat that, and they can beat anyone.

Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro – 12 (Fin) – Going Commando

Chio’s School Road comes to an end with two more stories of situations girls may find themselves in during their high school years. First, when Andou’s sister Chiharu approaches Chio for tutoring help, Chio gets to experience what it’s like to be the knowledgeable, reliable senpai, suggesting Chiharu make her 500 yen  by collecting cans.

The only problem is, none of the advice Chio dispenses is any good. They collected way too few cans, crushed them needlessly, and only collected the hard steel ones when the softer aluminum ones are worth ten times more. When confronted with her failure by Chiharu, Chio devolves into a child and cries.

It’s Manana who ends up inadvertently showing Chiharu what kind of woman her big bro’s girlfriend should be. Chio insists Manana step out of a long line to go to school, but Manana wants to sell her spot and ends up making over 2,500 yen, inspiring Chiharu to try being a “line agent.”

The second half elaborates upon Yuki’s exhibitionism: not only does she love running while wearing as little as possible, but she walks around her house in the nude, as does her whole family! She assumes lots of families do this…but she’d be wrong.

Manana tries to get one over on Chio by professing to also walking around the house while naked, but Yuki suddenly becomes threateningly suspicious. Manana panics and blurts out how she’d love to not be wearing underwear right then.

She gets her wish, as she and Yuki spend the rest of the walk going commando, which needless to say provides quite a few thrills and close calls for the both of them. They frolick about as if they’ve attained another state of being, living on the edge and loving every minute of it.

The only way Chio can be part of their world is to follow suit and go commando, which she does, and she is immediately welcomed warmly into the fold. Unfortunately, the trio comes afoul of Kushitori Madoka, who can pick up the fact that her kohais are even more radiant than usual.

She doesn’t get a chance to confirm why, however, as Chio manages to scoop up Yuki and Manana gives the excuse that the three have to go pee before Kushitori can get an impromptu game of Kabbadi in.

The episode concludes with some faux previews for other segments (who knows if this will get a second season), followed by “outtakes” of key scenes from past episodes, in which the characters either flub their lines or actions, leading to banter between the “cast and crew”; a neat meta way to end.

While neither as weird nor hilarious as last season’s Hinamatsuri, Chio’s School Road is still a smart, solid, cheeky slice-of-life comedy that stays focused on its premise throughout its run while providing a lot of creativity and variety in its scenarios. Oozora Naomi and Omigawa Chiaki do some very nice voice work and exhibited a wonderful fizzy chemistry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steins;Gate 0 – 17 – Fiasco

I could say “if only Suzu had left in more of a hurry”, but “if onlys” are at the very core of Steins;Gate. The future is the product of countless “if onlys” that were combined just so. Besides, there’s an element of inevitability, such that Suzu’s departure was meant to be delayed by Mayuri, and Mayuri was meant to know everything everyone else knows.

Suzu, Daru, and Maho tell her what they know, and it confirms what she suspected: Rintarou is in this state because he lost Kurisu, whom he loved. Mayuri exclaims that she loves Okarin every bit as much as Kurisu did if not more, but loved Hououin Kyouma even more than that, even though that persona has vanished, along with any joy in Rintarou’s life.

Because she loves him so much, Mayuri cannot stand by and allow him to remain so sad. So she decides not to stop Suzuha, but to join her on her trip back to August 21 of last year, in hopes they can both find the Steins Gate World Line. Rintarou races to the rooftop to plead with Mayuri not to go, but she’s determined to, as she poetically puts it, “clear away the clouds that loom over his sky”.

By having to deal with both Mayuri and Rintarou (the latter of whom she shoots, grazing his leg). Suzuha wastes a lot of time she should be using to get out of 2011 while she still can. She even leaves Mayuri alone on the rooftop as she takes Rintarou aside to patch him up.

The cell network blackout should have been a sign—a very ominous sign—that her window for escaping to the past was becoming smaller with every passing second. Earlier in the lab, Daru, Rintarou and Maho find messages from AmaKurisu on @channel, and Maho learns that the system was hacked and Kurisu’s memory data stolen.

All of the actions and inactions, observations and failures to observe, culminate in a D-Mail being sent to Suzuha from 2025; the first of this 0 arc. It’s from the future Daru, but from a slightly different world line than the one she left. The lines diverged when Suzuha and Mayuri decided to use the time machine. But they never get to actually use it.

Instead, Mayuri is taken hostage (making her announcement back in the lab heart-breakingly prescient) and the entire rooftop is swarming with soldiers; I’m guessing the Americans. They surround Suzuha and force her to surrender, but she has one more ace up her sleeve in the form of a knife hidden in the time machine.

Suzuha goes on a mini-rampage, but there are too many soldiers to take out, and in the mean time Mayuri is badly exposed. Just steps away from the safety of the stairs, she’s shot in the head and falls lifelessly to the ground. At first I thought it was just a stray bullet—there were so many—but the headshot is the work of Mayuri’s own future daughter Kagari, AKA K2605.

Never mind “if onlys”—I can’t see how this could have possibly gone worse.

Steins;Gate 0 – 16 – It’s Not Just a Cheap Coat

Daru and Maho are hard at work on “Phone Microwave (Temporary) Unit-02”; progress is slow and full of smoky setbacks, but neither party has any intention of giving up anytime soon. Meanwhile, in Mayuri’s words, the “normie life” of Rintarou (who has given up on trying to have both Kurisu and Mayuri in his life, without starting WWIII) is taking off, and he can’t tell how left behind she feels.

Rintarou can’t so much have a conversation with her without checking his buzzing phone. He says things like his going to America is “good for everyone”, even though it’s not good at all for her. She decides not to go eat with him, but ends up encountering Ruka, who calls her Rintarou’s “Orihime-sama”, pertaining to Vega and the heroine of the story upon which the Tanabata festival is based.

While the lovers representing Vega and Altair were banished to opposite ends of the galaxy, once a year a flock of magpies forms a bridge for them to meet. Mayuri, who can tell that Rintarou loved/loves Kurisu and not her, can’t subscribe to Ruka’s assertion, and all Ruka can do is offer a handkerchief to dry Mayuri’s tears.

Rintarou suddenly arrives at the lab while Maho is showering and Daru is unprepared. He’s ready to drag Daru along with him to America, but the trash is full of bananas and there’s a curtain covering the back of the lab. A light dawns in Rintarou’s head, and his initial suspicions are proven right when he pulls a bunch of slimy green ‘nanners from the trash.

When he discovers the new Phone Microwave, he whips himself into a damn frenzy trying to remind Daru just how much torture he endured and who died last time the device was constructed. Eventually his rantings are interrupted by Maho (in a towel, at first), but he soon turns on her, going so far as to call her a murderer if she proceeds. That earns him a much-deserved punch to the face.

Once heads have cooled a bit, Rintarou and Maho debate the “laws of the world” and whether messing with them is “challenging God.” While Maho can appreciate and even respect certain aspects of Rintarou’s theory about how the world works, she doesn’t believe humans would have the ability to make a time machine if they were never meant to.

Rintarou rebuts, telling her how she couldn’t possibly understand what it’s like to fail and fail hundreds and thousands of times, which is laughable to us because we know that the entire time Kurisu was alive, Maho was struggling and failing to reach any of the breakthroughs or earn any of the accolades or gain any of the fame her kohai had. But she never gave up then, and she’s not giving up now, no matter how much Rintarou yells at her.

Rintarou skulks off, and by chance, ends up encountering Mayuri in the park where they used to spend a lot of time before they met Daru. She used to wait for Rintarou just as we saw her wait outside his college in the present. What Rintarou doesn’t know, but eventually finds out as she talks, is that Mayuri heard every word in his rant back at the lab about how saving Kurisu meant killing her off.

She also tearfully notes how much he’s looked like he’s suffered ever since he made the decision, which makes her think he might’ve made the wrong choice. There’s no way he can be okay with how things have turned out if he has that look. His eyes have always betrayed how he actually feels. Rintarou is devastated, and tries to tell Mayuri to do the impossible: “not think about it.” Things aren’t that simple, Okarin. The clouds part, revealing Vega and Altair.

This was an emotional powerhouse of an episode, with clashes between characters of an intensity that’s been mostly missing from this season. With those scenes came brilliant performances from Miyano Mamoru, Hanazawa Kana, Seki Tomokazu and Yahagi Sayuri. Also brilliant is the fact that there are no right or wrong answers.

As Daru and Maho search for that one perfect solution to the formula among an infinite possibilities—for the Steins Gate—they must be cognizant of the fact that they are imperfect, lest the despair Rintarou has already experienced not only return, but worsen.

Hinamatsuri – 07 – Take a Deep Breath Here and Hold it

Despite being introduced as the girl from the same “realm” as Hina come to eliminate her, Anzu’s stories since have tugged hardest on the heartstrings due to the circumstances in which she ends up, and this week is no different.

We start off with her learning the ropes of the restaurant owned by the couple who took her in, and she’s constantly saying and doing things that remind them of her destitute recent past, and thus make them tear up.

Those things include her clothes always being too big, 800 yen being a king’s ransom, and using only cold water for her shower. However, her time among the homeless made her a hard worker and a quick study, and by the time her first day is over, she has time to soak in her warm and comfy new home. Dawww.

From the sweetness of Anzu getting acclimated to her new life, we shift to Hina getting chewed out by a teacher for constantly sleeping (guilty as charged), and what do you know, Hina actually uses her powers!

Not to do anything to the teacher, mind you; she merely manipulates her desk neighbor Hitomi into pocking out a pointillist sketch of a knife-wielding oni, which Hitomi would surely get in trouble for if teach saw it!

Hina isn’t just sleeping at school because she’s tired; she’s also bored. Nitta tells her to figure out on her own how to make things more fun. When she hears some somewhat exaggerated claims about how much power a student council president has, Hina mixes it with stuff she saw on TV and announces her candidacy, to the dubiousness of all.

When Hina tells her homeroom teacher “I’ve got this”, he’s never been less convinced, and scoffs at a fellow teacher praising his ambitious kids. The only one who takes Hina seriously is someone who barely knows her; Nitta’s boss, who instructs the company lawyer to draft a proper speech for her.

When that suggestion was first made, I knew it would result in some comedy gold, and readers, I was not disappointed. After ignoring a teacher’s insistance first-years can’t run for president (causing the whole auditorium to note her ignoring him, in unison!) Hina starts out strong, as her speech is a reasonable argument for a competitive bidding process for a new lunch supplier.

Things go off the rails once Hina simply recites even the parts she’s not supposed to read (‘take a deep breath here’) and even the lawyer-speak can’t hide the fact that a school-mandated afternoon nap for middle schoolers is…a bit silly.

Nevertheless, Hina wins secretary, a job for which she’s a no-show for the first few council meetings. When a member pays a visit to her classroom, only Hitomi is there to receive her, and Hitomi being Hitomi, gets roped into yet more work as she inadvertently fills in for Hina and is appointed “stand-in secretary.” Guys…Hitomi’s got a bar to tend!

The third segment finds the middle ground between Anzu’s poignant introduction to homed life and Hina’s comedic presidential campaign, as Nitta once again fails to secure a date with Utako, and Hina urges him to talk about it with her so he’ll feel better (having learned this on TV, of course).

When Hitomi gets word Hina’s “dad” wants to date her boss, she thinks of how hard it must’ve been for Hina losing her mother (whom she envisions also had blue hair, since Nitta doesn’t), and vows to help get Nitta that date in any way she can so Hina can one day have a new mom.

Her efforts don’t go so swell at first, as Hina’s hamfisted act makes it seem as though Nitta put her up to asking Utako on his behalf. Hitomi persists, and Utako relents, agreeing to go on the dang date.

Upon learning Hina got him said date, Nitta picks her up and spins her around the room in elation…until she smacks her foot on the doorway and breaks it. In the hospital room Hina insists Nitta carry on with the date, which he does…but on that date—the audio for which we never hear—he apparently never stops talking about Hina.

Utako takes that, and Hina’s closeness to Nitta, to mean that she’d only come between them if she continued dating them, not at all perceiving the fact that they’d both welcome her as part of the family if things progressed that far (and there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t).

And so Nitta essentially strikes out for being too good a fake dad, and has to resort to using a hand puppet to represent Hina’s new mom, which even Hina isn’t buying!

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 07 – If You Give Up, Then That’s That

Nyanko Big, Pillar of the Tada family since the loss of its mom and dad, is missing. Mitsuyoshi’s little sister Yui takes center stage in the search for him, riffing off of her favorite manga that chronicle the cases of Hercule Poirot’s half-Japanese granddaughter…which doesn’t sound like a half-bad anime!

Everyone joins in the search, even Sir Charles, who was the one who saw him last with his “girlfriend” (a raggedy foxtail toy). During the search, Yui is happy to be partnered with Yamashita Dog, on whom she’s been maintaining a crush. (Hinako and Hajime sit this one out).

When we first see Charles reacting to something earlier on, and Yui’s gramps mentions how pets “take a trip” when their “time has come”, the episode is trying to tint the proceedings with foreboding, but while the thought briefly occurred to me they might kill off the cat, that thought didn’t last due to the search’s lighthearted tone.

Sure enough, they find Nyanko attempting to woo the disinterested Cherry, who happens to be the pet of “Chia-nee”, a lovely woman who knows Yamashita and pats him on the head as he coos. The joy of finding her cat is replaced by the revelation the guy she likes likes someone else, and says as much later when they’re enjoying celebratory festival snacks.

Teresa knows something’s up, and when asked what’s up, Yui cannot hide her tears of frustration, asking Teresa if falling in love with someone is always so painful. Like Nyanko Big, Yui is meowing up the wrong awning, but Charles later confides in Nyanko that he senses he may be doing the same with Teresa.

That aside, Teresa is the one who once told him “if you give up, then that’s that!”, when he tried to give up looking for his cherished gold bracelet (perhaps given to him by Teresa). She didn’t give up, ended up finding it, and he still wears it to this day. He, in turn, won’t give up, and neither will Nyanko and Yui.

As for Mitsuyoshi? Well, once again he’s a non-factor, only managing a momentary awkward meeting of eyes with Teresa. You can’t give up something you haven’t started, and with only five episodes left, he’s running out of time to do so.

Hinamatsuri – 06 – All She Remembers is the Chili Shrimp

The moment his mother calls and Hina answers, Nitta has to figure out a way to explain why a 13-year-old girl is living with him, so he crafts an intricate story, the gist of which is that Hina is the orphan of a couple who were killed in a feud.

Hina’s robotic delivery may be unconvincing, but Nitta explains it away by noting that the girl was traumatized by the experience, and all she remembers of it is “the chili shrimp” (though he should have said ikura, since Hina knows what that is).

Nitta eventually comes clean to his mother and his alcoholic kid sister, though he replaces one lie with another: Hina is his daughter. But is it a lie? I mean, obviously not biologically, but in practically every other way, that’s what he is. His fam doesn’t object, and welcome her with enthusiastic open arms.

Watching Nitta knit his web of lies had lots of comedic value, as did Hina’s inept attempts to stick to their story. But the second half of this episode barely makes any effort to be funny. Instead, it goes for straight drama, as new municipal statues mean the homeless people Anzu lives with are going to be kicked out of the park where they live.

While all the old men go their separate ways, Utako (their friend and vocal advocate) has found a husband and wife willing to take Anzu in. Anzu doesn’t want to stop fighting, but this is a battle she can’t win, and the old men are not only resigned to their fate and fully prepared to move on, but are likely relieved this young kid won’t have to live on the streets collecting cans anymore.

Anzu is anything but celebratory. Upon suddenly finding herself in the relative lap of luxury, with delicious food, clean clothes, and a warm bed—none of it costing her anything—all Anzu can do is worry about how she doesn’t deserve any of it, as well as worry about her friends like Yassan who are still out there on the streets.

Anzu thinks this way because she has an enormous heart and a strong moral compass. But she’s being far too hard on herself; no one of her age (or at least the age she appears to be in the form she’s taken in this world) should have to worry about working for food; she should have adults who care for her, as Nitta cares for Hina.

Sure, Hina helps him out occasionally (though certainly not lately), and when Anzu learns he new guardians run a Chinese restaurant, she is eager to help out in any way she can (again, because she’s a super-good person). But one thing she’ll hopefully learn is that her work isn’t an requisite of food, shelter, and care.

Her new guardians just want her to be happy and safe. Still, they tell her the people she’s worried about will always be a part of her, and her a part of them, so she needn’t ever feel alone.

I tellsya, it was a goddamn tearjerker; Anzu’s tears of joy wouldn’t be out of place in 3-gatsu no Lion, while seiyu Murakawa Rie does a marvelous job voicing Anzu. I’m mostly just glad she’s no longer homeless!

Just Because! – 12 (Fin)

Setting the final episode on the seniors’ final day of high school is an obvious touch, but a very effective one here on Just Because!. We can share that sense of accomplishment, relief, and anxiety the new grads are going through. There’s also the sense that everyone feels a bit out of place, from little details like flowers and parents to a completely different schedule of events from the usual routine.

Unfortunately, we have to wait quite a long time for the inevitable payoff of Izumi and Natsume meeting in college. That’s because they don’t see each other the entire episode. This seems at once a wry nod to viewers that such an inevitable payoff, while desired, isn’t something that can sustain an entire episode.

Rather than pad it out, JB! does a curtain roll of everything and everyone else, starting with the news that Izumi didn’t get into the fancy college he thinks Natsume is going to. She only texts him that she got in “her first choice”, without indicating that she changed it to his.

That profound misunderstanding threatened to mar all of the events in the episode that weren’t dedicated to resolving it, but it turned out to be an episode that rewarded patience. We also get an arguably superior scene to the episode’s final moments in Izumi and Komiya’s last scene together.

She won and lost the competition: lost because her photo of him didn’t win, but won because her fellow club member’s photo of her taking a picture of Izumi did win, which means the club, and her place of belonging survives. It’s little consolation for Izumi’s formal rejection, however, and both animators and seiyu LYNN really knock it out of the park with Komiya’s understandable reaction.

Speaking of dingers, we get a nice symmetry to the series when Izumi and Souma play ball in the yard again, only this time with their positions reversed. When Souma hands him the bat and says “hit a home run”, Izumi knows what he’s talking about, because of what hitting one meant for Souma.

That being said, Souma’s fiert first pitch immediately lets Izumi know he’s not lobbing a batting practice toss…Izumi has to earn his homer—and he does, making crisp contact that sends the ball flying, just as a jetliner screams overhead, the vapor trail imitating the ball’s path, making the homer seem that much more epic. Izumi runs off to Natsume.

Unfortunately, Natsume doesn’t wait on the hill long, as she assumes that Izumi won’t come, and a phone call from Yuriko and her celebrating friends lures her away before Izumi can get to the rendezvous point.

So that’s kinda that…and an entire month passes, without them speaking or even texting each other. To this, all I can say is, WTF, show? A month? Seriously? A longer period of time apart than the two have ever suffered, at so crucial a time in their lives? I’m not a fan of the choice, or the persistent lack of communication that caused it.

That being said, their encounter at college, in which both un-bottle that month of longing with quick confessions to one another, was very well done. Not as nice as Komiya’s scene, but still nice.

Some shows are about what happens after two people who really had to labor to end up with each other enter a romantic relationship, but this was just about how it happened. I’m always for at least a taste of seeing the new couple fall into a new rhythm together, but we didn’t get that here.

Oh well, what we did get was most enjoyable regardless. Just Because! is no Tsuki ga Kirei, but there were certainly moments when it came close.

Just Because! – 10

In its third-to-last episode of the Fall, nobody has a particularly happy Valentines Day, both as a result of bad luck, poor timing, simple misunderstandings, and an inability to resolve those misunderstandings in a timely fashion (hence the two episodes remaining).

Komiya Ena—who may be the more charming and less passive of the two girls, but is nevertheless someone I don’t think Izumi should end up with—still wants to give him chocolates, but becomes dejected when she sees him with Natsume.

Meanwhile, Natsume seems on the cusp of giving Izumi chocolates as well, but a LINE message from Souma leads Natsume to glance at Izumi’s phone, and Chekhov’s Phone Background goes off, upsetting her to the point of running off with a face Izumi has never seen. THANKS A LOT, SOUMA.

Almost immediately after Natsume retreats, Komiya goes up to Izumi and gravely removes the background before running off herself. And when Natsume finally stops running, she beams, happy to be so “completely serious” about Izumi, even if he has no idea his love is requited.

Frankly, I found the need for Natsume to see the background a bit of a cheap stunt, even if it was telegraphed as a potential point of conflict as soon as Komiya made it Izumi’s background.

I get it: these crazy kids take their social media seriously, but they’ve also proven capable of using their words with one another in person. Sure, emotions ran high, but Izumi made no real effort to go after Natsume or explain the reason Komiya was on his phone.

Speaking of communication, Souma and Morikawa meet up, ostensibly so Morikawa can deliver her answer—which she does, but not before they do a kind of performance piece in which she’s playing the trumpet while Souma pantomimes hitting a home run and rounding the bases.

It was…odd, more than a little corny, and not really effective. That being said, their exchange after their little “dance” went better than Izumi’s triangle, even if Morikawa asks Souma to be patient and let her get settled with college before dating.

Asking for another delay is cruel, but hardly avoidable. The two being able to see each other regularly is practically impossible, no matter how gung-ho Souma claims to be, he’s not made out of travelling expenses, and it wouldn’t change the fact they’d be leaving the gate in a long-distance situation, which is never a good way to start.

Ultimately, I’m satisfied with Morikawa’s position evolving from “no way” to “I don’t know what I’m doing” to “yes, but later.” As Souma said, she gave it a lot of thought and consideration. Could he fall in love with someone else in the weeks and months he and Morikawa are apart? Perhaps, but that’s not presently the case. If it’s to be, it’s to be.

That’s kind of the attitude I have to take with Izumi and Natsume too; if it’s to be it’s to be. Komiya decided to bike to temples all over the place to grab as many amulets as she can. It’s a gesture simultaneously self-serving (to impress him with her dedication) and selfless (she got them to ensure he’ll pass the exam). She both wants him to fail so he won’t go off with Natsume, and wants him to succeed because he’s studied so hard.

Izumi likes that part of Komiya, and so do I. She also gives him chocolate—albeit one small store-bought bite rather than her homemade sweets—and he gives her one of her charms back, in hopes she’ll win her competition, something he didn’t use to care about, but now does because he considers Komiya a dear friend.

As for Natsume, she’s going for it. She’ll get into Joei and then “lay bare all her feelings” regarding Izumi. Here’s hoping she and Izumi don’t end up at different schools, thus having same problem of distance and time as Souma and Morikawa. Don’t do that to me, show. I’m warning you. DON’T YOU PUT THAT EVIL ON ME JUST BECAUSE!