Call of the Night – 10 – Arisa in Selfieland

Last week was a Seri episode, and from the first scene it looks like this one’s going to be a Kohakobe Midori one. Midori’s in a bind: one of her co-workers at the maid café called out, so she needs someone cute who won’t hit it off with guys and threaten her “Number One” position among the maids.

Naturally, just that person crosses her path in Nazuna. And while Nazuna looks predictably killer in her maid uniform, her way of speaking and the way she carries herself leave much to be desired. It’s nothing like the polished-yet-unembellished grace and cuteness of Midori, causing Ikari Gendo-like reactions in one of her regulars.

Why this isn’t strictly a Midori-centric episode, however, comes down to the maid serving Kou. It’s neither Midori nor Nazuna, but Arisa, who is bright, cheerful, but also quite down-to-earth and earnest, saying she was once the café’s Number One before Midori showed up, but she lauds Midori as amazing. She also notes how even when she’s off she loves to visit other maid cafés to visit her favorite maids.

After closing Midori prepares to take some selfies with her and Nazuna for the café’s social media, and discovers peeping tom photos of the maids have been posted. Midori asks Kou if he’ll investigate and he agrees, always eager to please (even if she’s still a firm “no” for him romantically speaking). While inspecting the photos, all of which are of Arisa, Kou is startled by the sudden appearance of Arisa behind him.

This episode shows that once Kou says he’ll do something for someone, he really hunkers down and gives it his all, meticulously inspecting the photos and determining most were taken in the break room, then lining up the angles where a tom could snap secret pics. I love how he has Nazuna “give him a hand” by flying him up to the otherwise inaccessable balcony.

When Nazuna remarks that only a vampire could come up here to snap pics, and thus Midori must be the culprit, Kou has her pose as a stand-in for Arisa in a test photo…and since it was taken quickly and Nazuna wasn’t quite ready, it’s an awful photo of her. That’s when the light bulb goes off for Kou.

While his confidence that he’s cracked the case plummets with every word out of his mouth, he tests his working hypothesis by staking out the break room from a locker, where he ends up stuffed in with Midori since only one locker is unlocked. There, he tells her all the photos were taken after hours, when Arisa was alone, with no other staff or customers around.

Then they watch through the little locker slot as Arisa sets up a selfie stand at the window, and Kou busts out of the locker. Arisa is caught red-handed. When asked how Kou knew, he says simply that the photos were too nice; too much care was put into their composition and lighting; nothing like the quick and often blurry shots an actual peeping tom might take.

He also notes the lack of truly scandalous shots showing underwear. Sure, he’s incriminating himself as a guy here, but all in the service of justice, so he swallows his pride. But while his male gaze and male perspective helped him pick Arisa, his blind spot is the “why”.

But Midori knows why: Arisa, supplanted as Number One, sought recognition; the means to show she was still popular. But while Midori initially sounds cruel, even calling it an “illness”, Midori says all humans have one such illness or another (like Kou skipping school and staying out late), but it’s okay to be ill.

For one thing, it’s okay because at the end of the day, Kou makes a new friend in Arisa, who stops by the café when she’s not working, both to see her favorite maid (Midori) and to chat with him. Arisa admits to being so obsessed with selfies she’s spent an entire day seeking the perfect shot.

In the back of her mind, she always thought there was something wrong with that, so it was nice for someone (Midori) to say it wasn’t. Call it a vampire’s perspective. She caps off the episode on a heartwarming note, with a group selfie of her, Kou, Nazuna and Midori.

Both Oozora Naomi and Oonishi Saori do yeoman’s work as the voices of Midori and Arisa, respectively, as Arisa shows Kou that there are all kinds of people who go against the grain as he does. I appreciated that things never got catty, but that Midori understood and accepted why Arisa was doing what she did without judgment.

The Devil is a Part Timer!! – S2 E06 – Chicken Curry

When a fog rolls in so thick they can’t see their own outstretched arms, Maou, Ashiya, and Urushihara seek shelter in their comfy five-tatami room. But when they look out the window, a large form is approaching them: a cyclops. Then a demon centaur.

Finally, a anthropomorphic black chicken Maou actually knows arrives. The other two demons are swept away by some kind of powerful wind magic; only the bird, Maou’s old chancellor Camio, survives, and he soon reverts to a chibi chicken mode.

The first day the beach shack opens things get super busy super fast, and Maou, Ashiya, Urushihara and Amane can’t keep up with the sheer volume of customers or the food and drink orders. Chiho, Emi, and Suzuno come to the rescue, each in character-appropriate swimsuits, and with double the labor (I’m not counting Urushihara) the day is a success.

While Emi cleans one of the ice shavers, Urushihara starts asking her about Olba, a dude from first season who I honestly don’t remember, but who promised him he’d not only spare his life but put in a good word for him in Heaven, where he thought was the only place he could return to after the Demon Army fell.

Later that afternoon, Maou introduces his leal servant Camio to Emi, Alas Ramus, and Chiho, emphasizing that unlike most demons who were more about fighting and killing, Camio’s whole deal was being a thinking man’s demon, and Maou says the creation of the Demon Army was thanks in no small part to Camio’s hard work.

After the episode spends much of its time either being coy about the human that wounded Camio and defeated his two demon escorts or having Urushihara suggest it might be Olba, Amane pops in to ask Maou for help, and Camio immediately fingers her as the culprit. So now Maou knows he’s working for a human powerful enough to waste demons. But to what end?

Also, it’s official: this second season is distractingly awful-looking at almost every turn. This is especially evident with most characters in swimsuits. Those suits and the bodies they’re attached to take different distorted forms in almost every shot. Everyone looks stiff and awkward. If I wasn’t so intrigued about what will become of this revelation about Amane, I’d probably have already dropped this.

Call of the Night – 06 – A Private Place

Kou insists he’s not giving Shirakawa Kiyosumi a massage so Nazuna will give her a kiss; no, he’s all about the Murasakis, baby. Last time Kiyosumi came to Nazuna’s she got the best massage of her life. Kou’s is…less so, to the point she’s wearing a distinct “Is that it?” kind of face throughout the course. It leads Kiyosumi to ask how old he is, and when he says fourteen she’s amazed he’s working at such a young age, but sure he must have his reasons.

When she asks, Kou tells her how school was boring and he got tired of it, and how much more fun and exciting the streets are at night. Hearing how he wants to “enjoy the night” reminds her of the first time she went out late on her own, and felt like she was in a special place just for her. From there, the two start to have a lively conversation about their shared love of the night.

When that talk turns bitter when Kiyosumi brings up work and how all the things she has to endure, she starts to tear up, and then her boss calls her, even though it’s the middle of the night she’s expected to answer and go back into the office. But Kou blocks the door, tells her she isn’t going anywhere, and summons Nazuna, who comes through the wall. The massage course isn’t over.

When Kou tells Nazuna to make sure Kiyosumi doesn’t go to work, she tosses her out the window. Kiyosumi has the similar feeling of confusion about what the hell just happened, followed immediately by the terror of falling and the strange feeling of whether this is it.

Kou dives out the window after her and catches her, and the two of them are suspended in the air by Nazuna. As it was with him, it feels like a rite of passage: thinking you’re going to die, and then being plucked from that certain death by a vampire saying “nah, you’re actually not.”

When they land, Kiyosumi asks why Kou did this; he says anything that makes you cry isn’t something you should have to do. This is where their age gap rears its head again, as she tells him he’s still just a kid and doesn’t understand. Adults have to keep enduring, even if something makes them cry.

Then he tells her his dream to become a vampire so he can keep enjoying the night, and it’s so earnest and serious she can’t help but burst into laughter. He Kou walks out into the middle of the road—something you can do at night since it’s not busy—and Kiyosumi joins him, once again feeling that old feeling of doing something wrong but feeling so right.

Kiyosumi tells Kou she hopes he achieves his goal of becoming a vampire, and in turn Kou tells her that when he becomes one, he promises to make her into one too. Nazuna seems taken aback by this, and later reminds Kou that to change Kiyosumi he’d have to make her fall for him, but he’s not worried; “girls tend to like him.”

That lovely character portrait of the overworked businesswoman and her night of enjoyment is followed up by Nazuna greeting Kou in her entryway and telling him to come up with different stuff for them to do. This leads to them going to a nighttime pool, which Kou remarks is “nothing like the pool in P.E.”

For one thing, it’s extremely gaudily and even raunchily lit; for another, the swimsuits are a lot more revealing, though ironically he finds Nazuna’s choice to wear more fabric than she usually does more erotic than her standard swimsuit-like garb.

It’s also here where Kou feels every bit like the fourteen-year-old he is, including rushing to jealousy and possessiveness. When Nazuna decides to tease him by letting two other dudes hit on her, He grabs her and pitches a hissyfit, even though the two guys are totally fine with him.

Nazuna apologizes for teasing by taking Kou on another aerial trip, then dumping the two of them into his school’s pool, which is nice and deserted at this time of night. As we’ve seen from his interactions with Akira and now Kiyosumi, Kou isn’t socially awkward or anything.  But his intense dislike of the other night pool came down to it being crowded and with people too casually trying to make friends with Nazuna.

Nazuna, who after all hasn’t been drinking anyone else’s blood since she and Kou started hanging out, understands his desire for quiet and solitude, where the only two eyes on her are his. Considering how tasty his blood is and how fun he is to spend her nights with, Nazuna seems fine with that. But there’s still something to be said for exploring parts of the night out of one’s comfort zone.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 17 – Sumi Can Communicate

Three days after Ruka spent the night, Kazuya shows some genuine personal growth by taking out the goddamn trashChizuru had the same idea, and their timing is so synced up he almost wallops her when he opens his door. When she brings up Ruka, he assures her nothing happened, but the fact is she did spend the night. Later, when Chizuru is reading lines, she can’t focus thanks to Ruka’s words that morning.

On top of wanting to clear up the misunderstanding, Kazuya learns from the app that Chizuru’s birthday is coming up. He wants to give her a gift that means something, and also to thank her for getting him his phone case—which as we know played a key factor in him declining Ruka’s advances. He knows he can’t ask Ruka or Mami for ideas, so on Chizuru’s birthday he books Sumi, the forgotten Rent-a-Girlfriend.

Sumi, as we know, overheard Kazuya yelling out his feelings to Chizuru in episode 1, but other than that and being at Chizuru’s performance, she’s been a ghost, which is a shame, because every time she gets the spotlight, I find myself wishing Kazuya would just open his eyes and make her his girlfriend. It’s painfully clear (to everyone but him) throughout their date that she likes him!

Not only that, while she’s quiet and shy (though very verbose via text), she’s also perhaps the most thoughtful, kind, and caring of the four girls. Despite having so much less screen time than the others (or maybe because of that) she just constantly gives off Best Girl vibes. And Kazuya notes that she’s really making progress as a rental girlfriend, which she no doubt attributes to his help.

Kazuya procrastinates to the very end of the date to ask Sumi what she thinks would make a good gift for Chizuru. And while Sumi momentarily seems gloomy being asked about another girl, she quickly gets over that and helps the boy who has helped her. In her distinctive, adorable style of communication of gestures, little noises, texts, and the occasional spoken word, she suggests various gift ideas, all of which Kazuya considers but feels none of them are quite the right fit.

Sumi seems to have a Eureka moment and takes Kazuya by the hand, out of the department store where their date took place, and onto the roof of another department store where a “Rent-a-Fighters” power rangers-style show is going on. When Kazuya hears the pink fighter talking he realizes it’s Chizuru, working her ass off at yet another job in order to make her dream to perform in front of her Gran come true.

Watching Chizuru in action and delivering rent-a-kicks and punches inspires Kazuya to a degree, as he decides to stop wallowing and power through his indecision. Before parting ways, Sumi also tells him that sentiment matters most when it comes to gifts; as long as it’s from the heart, any gift from him would make him happy. Sumi isn’t only speaking rhetorically, mind you, but Kazuya doesn’t pick up on the nuance of her text.

Even so, when Kazuya starts walking away, Sumi looks at the photos they took together, her eyes start to get glassy, and before Kazuya knows it Sumi has him by the sleeve. Having not thought this through, Sumi remains silent and blushing profusely for a good long time, but eventually asks Kazuya for his birthday. They part ways again, and Sumi immediately puts the date in her calendar—an opportunity for her to give him something from the heart. Her satisfied smile melted my already melted heart.

Chizuru comes home well after dark, on the phone with her Gran declining an offer of dinner as she’s just too wiped. She takes a shower, gets a text from her idol frenemy Chi, then goes out on her balcony and finds a bag with a “Happy Birthday” note from Kazuya, who slipped it there from his side.

It’s a heartfelt note, explaining why he’s giving her a gift and that it can alleviate fatigue, which is especially timely sentiment considering how tired Chizuru is in that moment. When she opens the box within the box and finds pickled plums, her first reaction is “…Why?” She then notices Kazuya’s postscript insisting nothing happened with Ruka, and she remembers how passionately he spoke to her about not giving up, and pops a plum in her mouth.

Now, if you’ve ever had a pickled plum (I highly recommend them) you know how powerful the flavor is. They’re sweet, salty, and above all oh so sour. It’s a flavor that brings a smile to Chizuru’s face, and it’s a good flavor to represent the complicated nature of her and Kazuya’s relationship. It’s not necessarily comfort food, but slight discomfort food, giving you the kick you need when you need it.

Poor adorable Sumi doesn’t stand a chance, does she? T_T

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 16 – Turtle Curry

Kazuya is convinced Mami is going to let him have it now that she knows Chizuru was a rental girlfriend, but to his shock she’s nice. She’s worried she “pushed him” to this, something he denies, and says instead it was a kind of “social experiment”.

Mami leaves him saying he shouldn’t waste his time and money on fake girlfriends, but doesn’t believe a word he says otherwise. She knows something’s up, and while she calls him a loser, she wouldn’t be bothering with him at all if she didn’t still care about the lug.

From there, it’s a Ruka episode, which is always a delight because how there’s a simplicity to her dynamic with Kazuya. He fully appreciates what a stunningly cute young woman she is, but doesn’t have feelings for her the way he does for Chizuru, so even though she’s willing to be his real and actual girlfriend, it just doesn’t quite feel right for Kazuya.

That said, Ruka has the time of her life shopping and cooking curry wth expensive soft-shell turtle (a known aphrodisiac) for the one she loves. She clearly prepared for this, and the show doesn’t cop out by making her a terrible cook. The curry is damned good, and also works downstairs, if you catch my drift.

Kazuya knows he should be perfectly content eating, watching TV, and eventually getting down to some hanky-panky Ruka has already made clear she’s ready for whenever he is. She even sends a text saying she’s staying at a friend’s so she can spend the night, which she sees as only fair.

After all, she let Kazuya go on rental dates with Chizuru. If Kazuya is going to allow her to frame their relationship as near-as-makes-no-difference legitimate, that means he owes her. Mother Nature tends to agree, sending a dousing typhoon to cancel all the trains and keep Ruka right where she is.

After she takes a shower and changes into his baggy shirt (and not the pants he offered), Kazuya can already barely take it, so when he’s in the shower he rubs one out for some “clarity” on the situation. Not helping matters is how loud Ruka tends to be with Chizuru right next door. Also not helping matters is when Ruka digs through her purse and a condom pops out…”just in case.”

That night he sleeps on the floor of the kitchen, worried that he’s caused Ruka to act this aggressive to compensate for the stress his stuff with Chizuru is causing, but he’s focused on simply getting through the night. That becomes incredibly more difficult when Ruka snuggles up behind him, giving him the chance to do whatever he wants, which is what she wants too.

It’s the sight of the phone case Chizuru gave him that stops him from turning over. But when Ruka starts going on about how he must not think she’s attractive enough, or that she’s being too clingy or a pain or a bother, he gets up and sets her straight: he’d never cal her bother, she’s so cute he can’t take it, and hearing her say he likes her makes him want to jump for joy.

He just doesn’t want to make a “terrible mistake”. Ruka, understanding, retreats to her bed, but falls asleep happy thanks to all the nice things Kazuya said. The next morning, before kissing him goodbye, Ruka says those works made her feel like she could stay by his side, so she will. She also makes sure Chizuru overhears her yelling about their amazing night together, which Chizuru definitely overhears from the other side of her door.

I know Chizuru is the girl Kazuya is supposed to end up with, and he clearly has strong feelings for her, every time Ruka gets her chance (which is rare) to offer a viable alternative route, she sure doesn’t squander it. The production also doesn’t skimp on the detail needed to up the intimacy levels of their scenes, and Touyama Nao’s warm, singsongy, expressive voice fits Ruka’s energy perfectly.

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.”

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 12 (Fin) – Happier Than Any Dream

Shikimori closes out its 12-episode run by pulling out all the adorable romantic stops en route to one of the sweetest, most heartwarming date episodes ever animated. It’s starts off with Shikimori revealing her very cool suit and coat she wears to the date, not wanting to be hampered by a skirt.

The two totally geek out over the Disneyland-style theme park, and while other people around them start to express their impatience over a 90-minute line for a ride, the two lovebirds pass the time effortlessly by just chatting and laughing with one another.

By the time they’re almost to the end of the Sleeping Beauty-themed ride, Izumi-hime nods off, and Shikimori-ouji leans in for the kiss to wake him. She’d have done it too, if not for a spot of Izumi-style bad luck where the exit doors open at precisely the wrong moment.

From there, Izumi suggests a shorter line next, to which Shikimori says she’ll wait in any line of any length, since being with him makes everything more fun. She takes his hand and runs to the next amusements, then he runs ahead and takes the lead, and the two just generally have the absolute time of their lives, firmly ensconced atop cloud nine.

When there’s a hiccup involving Izumi’s dinner reservation, the restaurant makes it up to them by giving them a choice table with a gorgeous view of the Venice-styled cityscape and a lavish multi-course meal complete with fancy redundant cutlery.

Izumi adorably orders an orange juice, while Shikimori gets a ginger ale, and looks at Izumi through it. She notes how everything around her looks prettier when she’s with him, and makes her wonder how beautiful the world is through Izumi’s eyes. The two hold hands and just gaze at each other as the waitress looks on, no doubt amused by how goshdarn cute these kids are.

While Izumi mistakes the “thing in the commercial” Shikimori wants them to do as escorting her, by the time they’re aboard a nighttime gondola ride together, Izumi realizes she meant smoochin’. Just before they take a photo together, the entire park goes dark from a freak power outage. Izumi curses his luck…but again, it works out to their advantage here.

With nothing but darkness around them and only the light of his phone, their situation is a distillation of how they already are: they have eyes for nothing and no one but each other. If this was a dream, Shikimori wouldn’t want to wake up. For a few glorious minutes the gondola becomes their entire world. There, Shikimori plants a princely kiss upon Izumi’s hand, and then Izumi one-ups her by delivering a peck on the cheek.

I hasten to add that all of these gestures, as the interactions and expressions between these two have been throughout the show’s run, are impeccably, lovingly lit and animated. The compositions, direction, and underlying feelings are enough to carry scenes like this, but the production values really propel them to another level.

Just before the lights come back on, Izumi gets the chance to look and sound cool as he brings up how worried she was about them drifting away a while ago, but he confidently re-confesses his love to her, and promises he’ll never leave her side. The power of Izumi’s cool face and cooler words is so much for Shikimori she has to melt into him for a little while, even after the lights come back on. Forget about dreams; what she’s feeling right here and now in reality is far better than any dream.

The episode could have ended right there and still been an easy five stars, but we get curtain calls for Shuu, Kyou, and Yui as they try to suss out of Izumi and Shikimori “what happened” on their date. Izumi twists himself into a work of modern art of embarrassment, whle Shikimori’s blushing over a kiss on the cheek is not the heavy details Inspectors Nekozaki and Hachimitsu were trying to get out of the pink-haired perp.

Still, as long as Shikimori and Izumi are happy—and they sure seem to be the happiest couple around—it doesn’t matter if a kiss on the actual lips is beyond their abilities. They have all the time in the world to take little or big steps forward in the future. The episode ends on a pitch-perfect note, reiterating how Shikimori is incredibly cute and cool by spin-kicking an errant can about to hit Izumi into a garbage can twenty feet away, then continuing on her way.

I’m honestly still pretty deep into the “warm and fuzzies” after this sweet and gooey masterpiece of a finale, but that’s what a great romantic anime does: it sweeps you up completely in the same kind of feelings of love and excitement its lead couple is experiencing. It’s a cozy, comforting blanket that, like the shoujo manga that changed Shikimori’s life, reminded you how amazing love is.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 11 – The Prince

Before Shikimori, Izumi was in a dark place. He tried to keep a brave face, but his propensity for misfortune isolated him. He prayed to God, asking if things would ever get better, and if not, if God could give him the strength to endure the pain and sadness, adding that he wished a hero would appear before him.

It’s as morose and heartbreaking as the show has ever gotten with Izumi’s condition, which has evolved from a joke to something more akin to a legitimate curse without cause. But if there’s no cure, there is a hero, and she comes with pink hair and the best Face Game this side of FLCL.

Shikimori and Izumi haven’t been able to hang out as a couple what with all the festivals, so Izumi suggests an amusement park. The ad he shows Shikimori shows a couple leaning in for a passionate kiss, so she’s in, in the worst way.

The question is, what to wear? Not that it matters; Izumi would think Shikimori was cute no matter what she wore. Shikimori’s older brother Fuji drives her to the mall, but doesn’t accompany her shopping. Indecisive about what to buy, she leaves the stores empty-handed and finds Fuji nervously sandwiched between two interested women.

She reluctantly rescues him from the situation, noting how he’s much shyer than he looks, and how maybe he’s the one who needs his hand held, after he teased her about when she needed to hold his. We’re then treated to some lovely Shikimori backstory, with a short-haired Micchon kicking older boys’ asses at karate.

Back home there’s an unnerving tension between her and her strict-seeming mother about whether she’ll be continuing with karate in middle school, even though she only started it because her brother did. Shikimori decides she’ll stick with it and lists the pros, and her mom smiles approvingly.

Shikimori starts being referred to as the “Prince” by boys who know they’d better not mess with her or the other girls. She rises to the top of the karate rankings, and even has the potential for the nationals come high school, but the one opponent she can never come close to beating is Fuji, who one rainy day suddenly announces he’s quitting.

Her karate friends are excited for her high school karate future, but she tells them she’s quitting too. Not because Fuji quit before, but because she discovered the magic of love through shoujo romance manga, and has decided to stop following others and choose for herself who she should be, which is a cute girl who will fall in love with a kind, handsome boy.

AND SO IT CAME TO PASS…but obviously not right away. First, Shikimori applies the same ferocious, focused work ethic to becoming a cute girl that she applied to become good at everything else she’s ever tried—she’s an extraordinary person—and is prepared to completely rebrand herself at high school, starting with entrance exams.

It is here where she and Izumi first meet, the latter’s exam ticket having been caught by the wind and lodged on a high tree branch. Shikimori was worried about mussing her hair not 30 seconds before, but when she sees Izumi’s distraught face (similar to the face he wore while praying for a hero) she climbs that tree and gets him the ticket. He expresses his heartfelt gratitude, but she’s too worried he thinks she’s weird to accept it.

The two meet again on the first day of high school, having both passed the exams. He thanks her again, and proceeds to explain why what she did mattered so much to him, explaining how he’s always been unlucky. He also says he’s glad he got to see her again just as the sunlight and wind and cherry blossoms make him look extra kind and handsome, and Shikimori asks for his name with a face so intense it kinda frightens him.

Of course, Izumi come to love those faces of hers, to the extent that he’ll feel a little jealous when others get to see them. But it’s so nice to finally see what Shikimori was like in her earlier years, how she and Izumi met, and how they were so perfect for one another right from the start. Fuji surprising her with the lipstick she liked was a perfectly heartwarming closing note. She’ll wear it to look cute, but also to give her courage.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 10 – Cup Ramen and Foie Gras

When Erika takes off to hang out with her mom (the one who raised her) Sachi doesn’t waste the sudden opportunity to hang out with her Onii. She ostensibly wants to buy a gift for their mom, but both of seem to agree their mom isn’t much of a gift receiver, so you have to think part of her just wants to see what it’s like to go on something like a date with Nagi.

The two settle on an apron (and sure enough, their mom could take or leave it) but when Sachi comes upon the idea, Nagi rewards her with a head pat, which pisses her off to no end. As much as she pretends not to stand him, Sachi wants Nagi to see her as a girl, not an imouto. Alas, he’s utterly oblivious. He just wants to study and win Hiro, which is why he’s probably none too pleased about suddenly being yanked out of the house by Erika.

Erika, who herself was blissfully reveling in her first cup ramen, got a text from her dad saying he’s coming—no discussion, not argument, he’s just coming and that’s that—so she ditches both wallet and phone, grabs Nagi, and heads out. Where doesn’t matter; that even she’s not sure is the point. No GPS or purchase history means even someone as rich and powerful as her dad can’t find her if she doesn’t want to see him.

Instead, Sachi is person who encounters her dad making himself at home in the house. She initially thinks he’s a burglar, but she should have called the cops anyway, considering he later lures her out and plys her with foie gras. I’m with the wait staff of his restaurant: it’s weird that he suddenly takes Sachi out to dinner.

Sachi is there for the foie gras, and also considers it equitable to tell Erika’s father about how she and Nagi are getting along. She probably doesn’t realize she’s being a snitch, because she’s distracted by the fact this is another opportunity for her: if she says they’re terrible together, she could potentially be able to swoop in and have Nagi to herself (again).

But Sachi is not a bad person, so she tells Erika’s father the truth: as mismatched as their personalities seem, Erika and Nagi definitely have a spark—je ne fois gras, if you will. Their chat is interposed between scenes of Nagi showing Erika a good time with zero yen thanks to a steep hill and a piece of cardboard.

As for Erika’s increasingly creepy dad, he heads into his office to admire a framed photo of him and Erika’s dad with Erika…and Nagi, looking like older toddlers. This is strange, as my understanding is they were separated at birth; this suggests they were reunited at some point. It also gives credence to the fact the “certain someone” Erika is trying to reach through SM is, in fact, Nagi, and the two of them simply somehow forgot they knew each other as kids.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 10 – So Cute, So Cool

Hot on the heels of the cultural festival is the athletics festival, and while I was fully ready to throw my hands up and shout “no more festivals”, this episode soon convinced me otherwise. That’s entirely because the five-person mixed relay team is none other than our five friends Shikimori, Izumi, Nekozaki, Inuzuka…and Hachimitsu.

The three jocks of the group help train the fast but mishap-prone Izumi and the slow, indoorsy, generally reluctant Hachimitsu. Both are amazed and heartened by how kind and patient Shikimori, Nekozaki, and Inuzuka are. Hachimitsu has the most athletic ground to cover, but she has the right teachers.

In fact, both she and Izumi are sufficiently inspired to keep training together even when their sporty friends have to head off to practice for their other events. Izumi wonders why Hachimitsu is working herself to the bone for running, something she’s never been a fan of.

As she zips her jacket over half her face, Hachimitsu’s answer is simple; if it makes everyone happy, then she’s happy. On the day of the festival, the girls watch the guys do the human cavalry thing, and Hachimitsu notices Shikimori ogling Izumi, looks a little jealous for a moment, then tells a joke. It’s a nifty little exchange that really deepens the complexity of this group’s bond.

When Hachimitsu participates in the bag toss, she turns out to be quite exemplary at it. No doubt she was motivated by watching the boys working hard, and by the warm and enthusiastic support of all of them. Her reward for her near-victory is one of Shikimori’s biggest smiles, and Hachimitsu can’t help but beam back in pride and satisfaction.

With the mixed relay approaching, Hachitmitsu can’t help but feel nervous. Shikimori, who looks so calm and cool, takes her hand in hers, revealing it’s ice cold because she’s nervous too. But nervousness and lack of confidence are two very different things. Shikimori says that having fun is most important, but if it’s all the same, she’s going to have fun winning. Hachimitsu can’t repel competitive fire of that magnitude.

Nekozaki gets their team into first place in the first leg, then hands it off to Hachimitsu. She’s moving so much faster than she’s used to she gets disoriented and trips herself. She falls on her face and skins her knee, but the baton never left her hand; they’re still in it. She gets back up and keeps running, handing the baton off to Izumi cleanly.

Izumi loses a shoe, but simply loses the other and keeps running in his stocking feet, and does not trip and fall, or fall further behind. He hands it off to Shikimori, who singlehandedly gets the team from the rear back into second place with acceleration that uniformly shocks all in attendance.

Just before Inuzuka receives the baton from her, he gets one good look at her intense face and knows that he just can’t let her or the others down. He only has one man to beat, and he beats him to the finish. Izumi is the first to tackle him into a celebratory hug, followed closely by Nekozaki.

Izumi is so high on their upset victory, he exhibits absolutely no propriety by taking Shikimori into his arms and holding her close, very nearly causing her to overheat. Then Hachimitsu—indoorsy, wisecrakin’ ol’ Hachimitsu—smiles a genuine smile of glee as she thanks everyone for working hard, shocking her friends.

The victorious quintet then poses for a beautiful Postcard Memory as Hachimitsu reiterates how happy and proud she is to have such fine friends. I tell you, it’s legit goddamn tearjerker material, and it’s also one of Shikimori’s best episodes. Just five incredibly cute, cool friends, supporting each other, making each other better, and having a blast. Who could ask for more?

A Couple of Cuckoos – 09 – Batting Off Steam

While informing Nagi the bath is free, Sachi’s towel slips off, but in a nice subversion of the trope, Nagi isn’t awake to see anything. Sachi, however, sees one of Hiro’s texts on his phone, referencing a d-d-d-date. The next morning, Erika finds Nagi all dressed up and ready to go. Nagi meets Hiro resplendent in comfy casual clothes, and is excited for their date, but also expects it to be another shrine stamp-collecting affair.

So he’s surprised to find Hiro has taken them to an amusement park. She usually goes alone, so it’s significant she’s bringing him along. Yes, she is doing it in part for the couples discount, but also because she believes Nagi can “keep up” with her. That proves mostly true, as Nagi accompanies her on every heart-racing ride again and again, and even accidentally kisses a reflection of her in the hall of mirrors.

Back home Erika finds Sachi texting curses to her brother and confirms that he’s on a date with a Hiro-chan, appreciating that Sachi feels like the other girl is taking her brother away. Sachi is also upset he’s out on a date when he’s engaged, calling it “indecent”—something Erika never considered as she never planned to actually marry the guy. No Nagi around affords the biological sisters another opportunity to hang out, as Erika tags along when Sachi goes on her usual de-stressing trip to the batting cages and public bath.

Nagi returns home having felt like his date with Hiro was a “disaster”, but he’s way overreacting. There’s nothing wrong with a girl saying she thinks you’re “cute”, and it’s obvious she had a lot of fun by the way she was humming when they parted ways. A few hours later, at three in he morning, Nagi and Sachi’s dad (and Erika’s biological dad) arrives at their door, saying they’re all going fishing.

Turns out this is a tradition for both Nagi and Nagi’s dad, though Nagi always gets seasick and always says he has a terrible time. His dad though, has always picked times when he knew Nagi was down, and there’s nothing like fishing to take you out of a bad place and into a better one. While Erika and Sachi compete for the biggest catch, Nagi admits to his dad that he “doesn’t hate” his life right now.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 09 – All Aboard the Friend-Ship

Don’t get me wrong: I like Izumi, and feel he’s both delighted and transcended his male damsel-in-distress archetype. That said, it’s not his name on he show, so to have a whole episode where he’s basically in bed sick is a great opportunity to explore Shikimori’s other relationships, starting with Inuzuka.

Inuzuka has known Izumi far longer than Shikimori, and so when you factor Shikimori’s need to compete in everything, that disadvanage is a sore spot. Thankfully, by spending some time with her (and due to the sleuthing of Hachimitsu) he learns she doesn’t just see him as some kind of rival, but that she often projects her big brother on him.

It’s gratifying that while Shikimori is initially competitive and pouty, she ultimately chooses not to usurp Izumi’s wishes for Inuzuka, not her, to take his notes and visit him while he’s sick. She can rise above those more possessive aspects of her personality.

After the Inuzuka segment, the episode becomes a tribute to girlfriends, i.e. girls who are friends. Nekozaki shines as she and Shikimori spot Kamiya at the bookstore. She invites Kamiya to join them in hanging out and Kamiya accepts, which makes Nekozaki’s day as she’s always wanted to get closer.

Little does she know how close Shikimori and Kamiya already are thanks to their shared adoration for Izumi and their intense rooftop encounter, and after returning from the bathroom she assumes the two became instant best buds in her brief absence.

The truth is that they’d already become closer on that rooftop, but hadn’t quite had the opportunity to build upon that moment to expand a relationship for which there was no reason not to become more of a friendship. Nekozaki is a useful facilitator for that purpose here.

In a wonderful segment, Shikimori and Kamiya team up against two aggressive but also highly virtuous gyarus on the basketball court, mopping the floor with the former high school champs with ease thanks to some baller teamwork. The power of friendship is on full display, but since it’s two-on-two Nekozaki is the odd woman out, and plays referee.

The girls’ bond is revealed to Nekozaki first by watching the two interact at the mall and now play together on the court. Nekozaki heard the chatter from other classmates establishing Kamiya as either a stuck-up/aloof cool beauty or a tragic loner, but the Kamiya she watched today seemed nothing like that externally-manufactured concept.

Later, when Nekozaki is walking with Kamiya, she wonders what or who brought about this change, because from Nekozaki’s perspective, it looked like Kamiya was carrying some pain. Kamiya isn’t quite ready to say who, but she will say that that person told her to treasure what she feels.

Kamiya apologizes for never saying yes to Nekozaki’s many offers to hang out in the past. But being the sweetheart she is, Nekozaki apologies right back for coming off as a little pushy about it. Nekozaki did it not just because she sensed Kamiya’s hurt, but also because she recognized Kamiya was a person it would be an honor being friends with.

Nekozaki is perfectly fine letting Kamiya take her time discovering more of her feelings, and when she’s ready, Nekozaki will be there to hear her or be a shoulder to cry on. Nekozaki wants nothing more than for Kamiya to smile from the bottom of her heart. That desire is at the heart of friendship … where everyone is welcome aboard and no one goes overboard.

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.

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