7 Awesome Non-Romantic Couples of Summer 2016

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Summer 2016 has shaped up to be bursting with interesting boy/girl relationships that aren’t necessarily (or in some cases, even remotely) romantic. Just friends, BFFs, best buds, call ’em what you want, they’ve already made a huge impact this season. Here are seven of our favorites. If you know of one we missed, let us know in the ‘ments.

Heavy Spoilers Throughout.

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Takamiya Naho x Suwa Hiroto (Orange)

Orange is primarily focused on the potentially future-and-life-saving romance between Naho and Kakeru, but Naho’s friends play a key role in facilitating her mission, and none more than Suwa. Indeed, in the future where Kakeru dies Naho marries Suwa and they have a child, but both of their future selves seemed committed to making sure their past selves saved Kakeru. That meant Suwa putting his own feelings for Naho aside.

Now that they both know about each other’s letters form the future, Naho and Suwa have a strong, unique non-romantic relationship. In the circle of friends, Hagita and Azusa are another romantic couple in the making, leaving Suwa and Takako, who we think should be a couple so everyone’s paired up and happy.

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Kariu Rena x Kaizaki Arata (ReLIFE)

Remember ReLIFE? Zane semi-binged in the first two weeks July, and it was full of great character pairings. Most were romantic: Kariu and Oga (better late than never); Kaizaki and Chizuru (a pairing potentially doomed by circumstance, but not dead); An and Ryou (who weren’t fooling anyone).

But one of the best combos wasn’t romantic: Kariu and Kaizaki. He helped end her misunderstandings about Chizuru’s behavior and brought them together as friends, and then Chizuru helped Kariu repair her friendship with Honoka. Kaizaki was also instrumental in getting Oga to realize his feelings for Kariu, leading to them finally pairing up at the Summer Festival. Being friends with and helping Kariu out also helped Kaizaki come to grip with his own social issues.

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Utara Canaria x Suzaku Ichiya (Qualidea Code)

Ichiya has been and continues to be a twerp in QC, but his friendship with Canaria was one of the most humanizing things about him. His boorish “I’m all we need” arrogance is borne out of his intense desire to be strong enough so that his friend doesn’t have to fight (even though he was at his best when she was buffing him with her song).

Not the most original dynamic, but the fact Ichiya and Cana were never even hinted at a romantic couple (and never acted awkwardly towards each other) made the couple more interesting.

Sadly, Canaria was suddenly killed off after just four episodes and all evidence suggests she’s not coming back. Since she was the only person Ichiya cared about in the world, he’s not so high on the world right now.

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Hoshino Yumemi x Customer (Planetarian)

This show only spanned five quick episodes, but still packed an emotional punch, and dealt with some very elemental Asimovian themes when it came to human-robot relations.

At first, the customer was impatient and indifferent to the planetarium host without an audience. But her relentless positivity wore him down, and he became enamored of the idyllic island in a sea of apocalypse she represented.

He became so fond of Yumemi that seeing that she made it out of the Sarcophagus City with him safe and sound became as much a priority as surviving, making it all the more tragic when she disobeys his order to stay put when she senses his life is at risk and she sacrifices herself to save him. Thank goodness her memories are backed up!

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Yukihira Souma x Tadokoro Megumi/Nakiri Erina/Nakiri Alice/Mito Ikumi (Shokugeki no Souma: Ni no Sara)

Yukihira Souma didn’t come to Totsuki Academy to find a girlfriend or wife, but he DID come to make friends. And that what he considers all the girls listed above: friends, whom he can talk with casually about a number of subjects, bounce ideas off of, and, of course, cook with (or against), enjoy meals with, and learn from.

Souma’s female friends don’t feel like an anime harem because it isn’t one; there are certainly actions and reactions from all of them that suggest they harbor affection or even some feelings for him, but Souma generally treats them non-romantically, as equals.

Which is just as well: his ideal woman would be someone with the qualities of all four: Megumi’s warmth, humility, and inner strength; Erina’s uncompromising pursuit of culinary perfection, unwavering confidence, and veiled decency; Alice’s technical know-how, cheerfulness and humor; and Nikumi’s infectious earnestness and generosity.

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Crusch Karsten x Natsuki Subaru (Re:Zero)

If you told us eight weeks ago that one of Subaru’s most intriguing friendships would be with one of his beloved Emilia-tan’s rivals for the throne of Lugnica, you would have sounded preposterous. Yet here we are. Crusch and Subaru aren’t exactly friends, but they do share mutual trust and respect for one another, which is an important step towards friendship…without the slightest hint of romance.

What’s interesting is how this was achieved: through trial and error (and some death and suffering), Subaru finally arrived at the formula of things to say, and when and how to say them (as well as the conviction to back those things up), to make Karsch believe him and agree to his plan to defeat the White Whale. The result of that battle remains to be seen, but it’s nevertheless impressive to see how far these to have come.

Compared with the other two candidates introduced along with her (Anastasia and Priscilla), Karsten’s character has been given the most depth and opportunity to empathize with her as a fully-dimensional person rather than a set of personality traits. Subaru shared a drink on the terrace with her, grovelled in vain and elicited her disgust, and finally came to her with head held high and an alliance she could get on board with. The fact she can magically detect when Subie is lying literally keeps him honest!

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Yatrisino Igsem x Ikta Solark (Alderamin on the Sky)

The undisputed crown for best non-romantic couple of the Summer are these two ridiculously-named characters from Alderamin. Preston has gone on at length about what makes these two so fun and riveting to watch, but it all comes back to the fact that you just can’t put them in a simple box like “siblings”, “lovers”, “soul mates,” or “brains and brawn.”

Instead, they have their own box: the Yatori & Ikta Box. Beyond friends, beyond family, and frighteningly effective as a duo, keeping each other out of trouble and making each other better. We were sold on them before an episode aired detailing how they met and forged their unique bond; after that portrait our regard for them only grew. These two make this show.

Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume – 05

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If one believes we were made in our creator’s image, we do our creators honor by making robots in oursPlanetarian posits the possibility that we might’ve done a better job, as Hoshino Yumemi exhibits the kind of pure, unswerving selflessness and nobility befitting an angel; a kind not all humans are capable of summoning, for myriad reasons.

Unlike God with us, Yumemi’s makers kept things simple, both due to their limited budget and the more important limits to how human we can make robots. Because of this, Yumemi sacrifices herself to save her customer, following to the letter the Three Laws of Robotics.

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The Customer doesn’t run out to stop Yumemi from approaching the giant battle mech, and you can’t blame him. It’s a miracle he’s managed to stay alive with such an unrelenting mechanical monster firing high-caliber round after round at him, in addition to flinging and armored vehicle in the air as if it were a Hot Wheels.

Yumemi provides a diversion at a crucial moment that the Customer, down to his last grenade, cannot squander. So he fires his last show and disables the mech, but not before the mech opens fire at Yumemi, tearing her in two in a fraught sequence that’s painful to watch in its inevitability.

The balance of the episode is an extended, and at times unbearably sad goodbye, as the halved Yumemi only has 600 seconds of battery life left.

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The Customer weeps for her as he would a fellow human; no, moreso, as her following of her robotic directives bore the sheen of heroism, and at the end of the day it makes no difference whether she was artificial or not; she was a person to the Customer, and to us.

She’s a person because she’s utterly unique in her collected experiences, memories, and the evolution of her programming stretched across over 44 years—29 of them waiting, like Hachiko, for her co-workers and customers to return like they say they would. When they don’t, and she starts to think no one is ever coming back, she thinks she must be malfunctioning.

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The Customer’s arrival reassured her that she was not wrong to trust that someone would return. And while her body goes off-line, and it’s gutwrenching to hear her voice fizzle out and her green eyes go gray, the show fittingly leaves a sliver of hope by having the Customer retrieve her memories.

Perhaps, one day, when…whatever is going on with the world ends and peace returns, those memories can be put in a new body, and Yumemi can continue her job immersing customers in the vast, inspiring sea of stars.

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P.S. The stirring piece of music that accompanies the end credits of this final episode is stunningly, hauntingly gorgeous; melancholy and hopeful all at once. If I ever find it, it will surely be included in a future Weekly ED entry.

Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume – 04

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Yumemi has followed Mr. Customer out of the Planetarium, but only to escort him to his car. After that, she’s programmed to return and await more customers. If none come, she’ll still wait.

As Mr. Customer walks through the city with her, a part of him hopes her synthetic eyes will become open to the reality of the situation. There is no car, there are no people, there is no power.

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But for much of this episode, Yumemi remains blissfully unaware of the dystopia around her. A bump here, an accident there; the dearth of people can be chalked up to the rain…which will never end.

Customer sees an unbroken bottle of scotch and worries it could trigger a mine. But Yumemi picks it up and offers it to him, (correctly) believing it’s merely a bottle of scotch.

But for every demonstration that Yumemi is a dumb robot, there’s another moment when both I and Customer have to wonder, despite knowing what we know.

She even comes up with a wish to the robot gods: that the heavens be a place where robots can be with the humans they served in life, and can continue to serve in the afterlife. Very Asimov-ian.

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The show likes to play with our sensibilities about humans and robots – one minute showing Yumemi staring into space or falling on her face; the next saying something truly unique and inspiring or even simply flashing a look that suggests sentience.

This is compounded by the fact this is anime, so neither Customer nor Yumemi look all that realistic. But if I encountered a robot that looked and acted just like a human in a place like that, I’d want to get her out of there too.

There’s one last battle mech between him and the way out of the city. He hunts it while he lets Yumemi think about whether to come with him. Leaving means leaving behind any hope that the power will come back on, Miss Jena will operate properly, and customers will return. But she has a customer, right here and now. If they part, she won’t be able to serve him.

Assuming Customer didn’t die in the mech attack, I’m very interested to learn how she chooses…and if Customer’s comrade’s words—“Do not talk to it” were a serious warning the Customer is choosing to ignore…at his peril.

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Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume – 03

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The Mr. Customer of a few days ago would never have been patient enough to sit through a planetarium projection, much less allow the robot host to recite a spiel about being courteous during the show that he’s already heard several times. But just as the proximity of a human seems to be ever-so-slowly changing Yumemi, the proximity to such a painfully positive, upbeat, oblivious robot seems to be changing Mr. Customer.

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The show finally begins, and it’s hauntingly gorgeous, as planetarium shows tend to be if you’re into that kind of thing. More than a movie theater, having the entire dome above you turned into a screen really gives you the sense of how small and insignificant we are, and how vast space is.

Not only that, Yumemi proves to be a pro at astronomy and the rich mythology tied to it. Mr. Customer sits in awe of her command of the material and the confidence with which she presents it. For a brief time, she ceases to be simply an annoying robot and becomes an omnipotent being even the deities in the stars seem to bow to in deference.

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Then the power goes out, putting a damper on the show. No matter; Mr. Customer asks Yumemi to continue her part of the show without Miss Jena’s help. As he suspected, her language is vivid enough for him to create the pictures meant to be projected on the dome right in his mind’s eye.

Yumemi recites a story about humanity’s persistent, almost instinctual drive to reach the stars, starting with the sky and working their way up with each generation.

She also reveals the ability of the planetarium to serve as a time machine; I myself keenly remember looking up with awe at the starry sky 1,000 years into the future. There is no more basic—or more powerful—way to see that future. Ditto the past; as it takes years, centuries, and millenia for the light from stars to reach us as tiny faint spots.

Yumemi’s optimism and absolute certainty that humanity’s path will only continue to lead upward stands in direct, defiant contrast to the fallen world outside the walls of the Planetarium; a world Yumemi can’t begin to fathom or even perceive.

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Her only exposure to it has been through Mr. Customer, whom she calls because he’s just like any other customer, pre-apocalypse. And when that Customer gets up to leave, Yumemi says goodbye with her usual programmed charm. However, that isn’t the end, as I had suspected.

Almost as if she searched her database for some kind of protocol that would extend her exposure to Mr. Customer, Yumemi asks what transportation he’s using; when he says car, she attempts to connect with someone to take him to his car. Unable to connect (since there’s nothing to connect to), she takes discretionary measures by deciding to accompany the customer to his car. It’s a clever way to humanize her further without breaking her robot rules.

And just like that, leaving the idealized haven of Yumemi’s world isn’t so easy, those robotic eyes start looking more and more misleading, and the reverie continues.

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Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume – 02

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I continue to enjoy how efficient, pure, and lean Planetarian is. There are moments of bigger things—a flashback to the devastating war that left the rest of the city ruined; Mr. Customer’s bad dreams—but is mostly just a guy fixing a planetarium projector while a robot hostess watches.

And yet, discovering this haven, miraculously untouched by the war outside, and its simple, cheerful guardian, has suddenly provided Mr. Customer a break from the struggles of the outside world. In here, he’s a repairman, with the client marking the time often (she estimates 75 hours of operable time left before she has to return to hibernation due to limited power).

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Of course, Yumemi is also a pretty inquisitive robot, programmed to learn and become more than she was originally. And as Mr. Customer tinkers away, making slow progress, she keeps him entertained by bringing up her desire to dream, or shed tears.

When she repeats her question about when the projector will be fixed, verbatim, Customer switches up the answer, asking her to pray—not just to any god, or his god, but to the robot god. Her databases dig up a recorded discussion by the people she worked with about a robot heaven free of all the troubles robots experience.

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Even as Mr. Customer successfully completes repairs on the projector, Yumemi has less than 60 hours left, which means he has just that much more time with her before he has to return to the “real” world, leaving this oasis of hope and dreams behind. Yumemi’s limited time weighs over the episode. And she still doesn’t quite grasp that the world has changed dramatically in 8,000 hours.

Planetarian is only five total episodes, and we’re through two. What kind of ending (if it is a definite ending) is in store for us: is Yumemi doomed to be limited to the confines of her relatively primitive hardware of which she is composed? Will she be forced to shut down in the next few days? Will Mr. Customer let it happen and move on, or try to change her fate, heartened, in spite of himself, by her boundless positivism?

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Planetarian: Chiisana Hoshi no Yume – 01 (First Impressions)

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While exploring a ruined “sarcophagus city” post-apocalyptic world, a “junker” stumbles upon Hoshino Yumemi, the robotic host of a department store’s rooftop planetarium. She has been in sleep mode for nearly 30 years, but picks up right where she left off, treating the man as just another customer. After spending some time with her, he initially plans to walk away and leave her, but reconsiders and goes back.

One thing I enjoyed about Planetarian is that so far, it’s very simple: Guy Meets Robot. We only get a glimpse of her being activated by her makers, then three decades pass like the blink of an eye, though she doesn’t skip a beat after waking up.

Also, Yumemi isn’t exactly a smart or sentient robot; she’s very limited in what she can say to and sense from Junker (I also like how he doesn’t have a name; he doesn’t really need one), in addition to being near the end of her operating life.

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As such, their interactions are very one-sided. This isn’t two human beings interacting, and it shows. Junker is mostly put off by how verbose Yumemi is, and always looking for the right combination of words to simply shut her up.

Yet Yumemi almost talks as if she’s making up for all those years being offline with no customers to serve, even though she’d probably act exactly the same if this city and department store were still bustling with customers.

Seiyu Suzuki Keiko manages to strike a nice balance of super-politeness and verbosity without sounding too cutesy, shrill, or, most importantly, too human. Someone like, say, Misaki Kuno, would sound too human. Also, unlike the android in Dimension W, her lack of sophistication adds to the realism.

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Ultimately, I understand why, at the end of a relatively brisk first episode, Junker reconsiders abandoning Yumemi. For one thing, even a hardened survivor such as himself was likely moved by many of the very profoundly sad little moments Yumemi had, whether it was her improvised bouquet, the planetarium show without a projector, or continuing to talk to him long after the door had closed.

But it’s not just pity that brings Junker back. Yumemi, and her rooftop planetarium, are the probably the closest he’ll ever get to the world of thirty years ago. War has turned everything to shit, and yet here is an isolated, untouched island of civilization that was; the proverbial “little planet” of the title, where can be lost in reverie.

I was moderatley impressed with the simplicity and originality of this show, and will be back to check on Junker and Yumemi next week.

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Ikoku Meiro no Croisée 5

More ways of the French bemuse and confuse young Yune this week. She constantly wants to be of use, but in her new Parisian life, she’s neither required or expected to constantly work. She should fine time for leisure, to celebrate her freedom, to spend the money she’s made. But she’s having trouble understanding.

When I was in Japan I was amazed by how consistently kind, friendly, and helpful shopkeepers were, whether it was a 7 Eleven or a Toyota dealership. You receive a hearty welcome and the smiles hardly ever leave the faces of those working. Yune has this same mentality, but Claude warns her that in France, being too friendly or emotional to customers can scare them away.

When a young lad makes off with a candlestick (to later sell for food), she gives chase and gets lost in the gallery, neither of which boost her self-worth. When everyone either ignores her or gives her a strange look, she decides running and closing her eyes to be the best course of action, and…it is! She bumps into Claude. He repeats to her that her safety is more important than any item in the store. Yune took Claude’s advice too seriously. But she is learning.

Oscar makes a good point about a lot of the store’s wares (before going on a booty call): when electricity and such arrive, they’ll be rendered even more unnecessary. However, even things that are no longer useful are worth protecting. Do we still need butter churns? Or katanas? Not really; but those processes are a part of culture. Such arts must be preserved. Claude means to do that, and Yuna aims to help.


Rating: 3.5