Citrus – 05

Mei has no time for Yuzu and Himeko’s little competition for her, as she’s busy with both student council duties and filling in for her grandfather, the chairman. She orders the rivals to eat lunch together instead, and neither dare disobey.

Thus starts the first of many of the kind of interactions I was hoping for between Yuzu and Himeko: ones in which they put their gloves down for a second and simply exist adjacent to one another, as they must due to their associations with Mei.

Harumin serves as a great mediator in this venture, even suggesting the three of them and Mei go to Amagi Brilliant Park (well, something like it). Both Himeko and Yuzu doubt Mei will agree, but Yuzu will give it a try.

What Yuzu does manage is to get a day alone with Mei when they’re not at school; when Yuzu lies and said Mama would also like it if she accompanies Yuzu to visit her Papa. Note that Mei probably would have refused if Yuzu hadn’t lied, but it’s a good thing she did.

At first, Yuzu treats this like her first date with Mei, and tries to “cross a line” like Himeko claims to have done, first by breathing on Mei’s ear in a packed train (at first an accident, but repeated once she notices Mei’s reaction), then licking it.

When Mei asks her what the heck is up with her, Yuzu mentions what Himeko said, and Mei sets her straight: Himeko tried to do something weird to her and she scolded her. There’s nothing between them. This really puts a spark in Yuzu’s idea of her chances.

This leads to her trying to get an indirect kiss out of Mei by having a bite of her crepe, only for Mei to have only finished it. Mei delivers revenge for the ear-licking by wiping some cream off Yuzu’s face and eating it slowly, causing Yuzu to nearly boil over.

All these sensual gestures, combined with the simple pleasure of hanging out with Mei alone, gets Yuzu all worked up; she wants to kiss Mei and shout her love from the mountaintop more than ever.

But when she’s about to ask if they can hold hands (incremental steps), Himeko pulls up in her S-Class Benz and starts attacking Yuzu.

With a cruel, icy calmness, Mei basically tells Himeko to buzz off, and beckons for Yuzu to keep going. Mei and Yuzu walk away, leaving Himeko standing there, stunned, alone, and hurt.

It’s not the first time I felt for Himeko, but I’d never felt for her more before this moment. Even Yuzu can’t help but turn back, not to gloat, but with a pained, empathetic look.

It was around the time I was thinking “when the heck are they going to meet Yuzu’s Papa” that Yuzu brings Mei to a graveyard. It never occurred to me he was deceased, as I (wrongly) assumed her mom was divorced, not widowed. Mei also seems both surprised to have been brought there, but also honored.

It’s a very solemn, touching scene when Yuzu says all the good and bad things about Mei when introducing her and Mei doesn’t challenge any of it; this isn’t the time or place. Even more touching is Yuzu’s reaction when Mei silently prays at the grave. Yuzu is about to muster the courage to say something she needs to say…but Mei beats her to it.

The letters Mei gets from her father (whom she calls “Sensei”), one of which Yuzu jokingly threatened to open? Mei has never opened any of them. She’s afraid to, because if any of them contradict her long-standing hope that he’ll come back one day and everything “will be the way it was”, she’d be crushed.

When a shaken, tearful Mei asks Yuzu if such an outcome is really possible, Yuzu says the tactful thing, even if it isn’t something she can guarantee: everything will be fine, and she’ll help her in any way she can, like a sister should. The smile Mei gives Yuzu drives the point home: Mei doesn’t need love; at least not right now. She needs family.

As Yuzu cries out of Mei’s sight, Mei seems to be laboring to maintain consciousness, and sure enough, she collapses on the stairs at school the next day, right in front of Himeko. Trying to force herself up, she runs down Himeko just as Yuzu enters earshot, and, whatever bad shape she’s in, Yuzu doesn’t let Mei’s cruelty towards Himeko go unanswered.

What she does do is order Himeko to take Mei’s place at the various meetings she meant to attend, while she takes Mei to the nurse’s office. The two drop their rivalry for Mei’s sake, because Mei has not been looking out for herself properly enough, and their childish rivalry has blinded them to the toll Mei’s overwork has taken.

In the nurse’s, there’s no makeout scene, but a scolding scene. Mei explains how driven she is to become a worthy successor to her grandfather, especially now that his health may be failing. Yuzu wonders out loud why Mei’s father doesn’t take over, and Mei, for once, agrees with Yuzu’s  “nonsense”, which she likens to a broken watch—right twice a day.

And just to bring things around, Yuzu and Himeko have a nice little scene together in which Yuzu scolds her for overwork as well, tells her to be more honest, and the two come to a kind of detente.

That detente is sealed, in a way, when while walking to school the next day, Yuzu urges Mei to go ahead when they spot Himeko. Mei apologizes for being such a bitch to her and taking her for granted, and Himeko is instantly in tears, hugging her tightly, probably telling Mei she has nothing to apologize for.

That night, Mei’s father shows up, just like that. Yuzu has no idea who he is, and gets skeeved out when he hugs her and doesn’t let go (which, yeah guy, don’t hug a girl who doesn’t know you). Mei’s reaction to seeing her father again—as well as his reaction to seeing her—tells me things aren’t going to be the same in the Aihara household…but they’re definitely not going to be boring!

In the meantime, I really enjoyed both Himeko and Yuzu’s growth in this episode, the continued casual, reliable support role Harumin plays, and how Mei and Yuzu drew closer together not in a romantic way, but as family. Most importantly, Yuzu is now consciously weighing her own desires with what is actually best for her “little sister.”

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Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 03

Quite disappointed the words she worked so hard to say to Kondou didn’t give her the response she wanted, Akira becomes so preoccupied by Kondou and her feelings for him she seems to float above everything else with little interest.

She reconsiders asking her classmates for advice, and we kinda see them through her eyes. She knows how they’d respond if she mentions someone she likes, and especially if she tells them his age. So she doesn’t bother. When two track kohais lure her back to the track to watch and offer tips, it feels like a gross imposition, and an insensitive one at that.

Upon watching one set a new personal record, she regrets having been lured. When she goes, the girls consider going to her restaurant, she snaps: “DON’T!” That place is her world. Hers…and the manager’s.

As if mimicking Akira’s darkened mood, the heavens open up and a steady rain falls. Akira has no umbrella or coat, so she get soaked. She doesn’t care; she’s too lost in thought.

This rain reminds her of the day she injured her ankle, having felt something but simply taped it up and practiced in the rain anyway. We see everything from the injury, the doctor visit, and the isolation she felt upon being knocked out of action…and it’s frikkin’ heartbreaking!

Mind you, all of that ends with her getting a free cup of joe from Kondou and BOOM, it’s gone from the rain to…After the Rain. Great title, that. When she arrives at the restaurant in the present, soaked head to toe, she meets Kondou there, having a smoke.

He beckons to her to get inside, but she isn’t there for a shift. She’s there to repeat her words, and phrase it so there’s no mistake: I like you. Then she leaves. Kondou, bless him, gets the message, and it causes him to space out at a green light. Was Akira’s confession just a dream; a mirage in the rain?

After it rattles around his aged cranium, Kondou determines that it is not a dream, but a prank Akira and the other young staff members are pulling on him, because there’s no way she’d seriously be into him. He’s SO SURE of that he curses himself for almost falling for the prank!

But as he’s an adult, he doesn’t make a big deal of it. Kids will be kids, and sometimes kids are awful, both to each other and to their elders. He shrugs it off, though not because he isn’t irritated. Those punks!

Akira’s behavior upon returning to work seems to back up his theory, at least for a time. But when her casual talk immediately turns to I’ve told you how I feel; what’s your response, all hope that this was something “shrug-off-able” disintegrates.

Kondou is very careful with how he proceeds. He offers Akira a ride home, since it’s still wet out and she’s still recovering from her ankle tweak. He’s direct about his response: he can’t give her a proper one, because he’s 45 and she’s 17.

Akira immediately disputes the relevance of their age gap, and when Kondou persists, she repeats her confession so loudly and strongly he puts the car in a skid. This isn’t something he can shoo away with what he thought was common sense and social conventions. She’s resolute!

Sensing both of them could use some air (and that continuing to operate a motor vehicle could be hazardous at the moment), the two go to a park. Kondou follows a respectable distance behind Akira, who surely wishes he’d walk beside her. They come to a tree where there’s shelter from the stray raindrops that linger.

He asks her why she likes him, of all people. We already know she has plenty of reasons, and isn’t just interested in him because he “saved” her when she was at her lowest—when the proverbial rain was at its harshest. She’s come to like him even more since getting to know him more. He’s hard-working, honest, kind, fair, and a good father.

And he makes her laugh; indeed, when he insists she reconsider, as he’s a 45-year-old boy with no hopes or dreams, that right there makes her smile and laugh in a way he’d never seen, because she’s hearing him talk in a way she’s never heard him talk before.

Akira doesn’t care that he’s 45, or that she’s 17, or how low an opinion he may have of himself, and she doesn’t list any of the reasons I mentioned above. Instead, she questions the very notion of liking someone requiring a reason at all. And she’s right; you can cherry-pick whatever reasons you happen to brainstorm when explaining why you like or love someone.

But the reality is perhaps closer to Akira’s particular philosophy at this time: that love is ultimately a mystery. You may never know for sure why you feel it for someone; but you can never let that lack of answers frustrate or discourage you.

Being pursued in this way is a strange feeling for Kondou, and a nostalgic one, since it’s been decades since he’s felt it. But he has felt it, so he knows what it’s like better than most. He remembers being Akira’s age, and for a second, we see him like that.

When Kondou jokingly challenges Akira to go on a date him, and find out just how short a time it would take until she finds it creepy, Akira takes it to mean We’re going on a date? We’re going on a date! Kondou dare not correct her, at least not then and there. So, at least for now, on a date they shall go.

Just Because! – 08

Komiya Ena took Izumi’s photo before getting his permission, but after an extensive yet completely organic charm campaign, she eventually got it…and developed feelings for Izumi along the way. Perseverance and optimism won the day.

Komiya does the right thing by asking Natsume permission to ask Izumi on a date, but Natsume’s stern “no” doesn’t discourage her. Komiya knows intrinsically that she’s responsible for her own happiness and can’t wait around for things to happen on their own.

Natsume may have thought she’d bought a little time with her “no”—itself a huge move for her that confirmed she’s at least not indifferent towards Izumi—but she does nothing with that time. Izumi even asks her what she wanted to talk about, but she gives him the “never mind, it’s nothing.”

Natsume and Izumi’s situation takes a back seat when they join Souma and Inui for lunch at Morikawa’s house, which could and probably should have been just a Souma-and-Morikawa (and her little brothers) lunch.

It’s a cordial meal, but there’s something distancing about the way Natsume speaks of the support she got from everyone when Izumi provided the lion’s share of said support during the snowy exam day. It’s like the warmth of that day has been replaced by the more familiar coolness of earlier episodes.

That said, it’s not all Izumi’s fault; Izumi is the one so stealthily demonstrating his feelings for her by applying to the same school, where they’ll presumably be able to see each other. But if that’s what he wants, what the heck is he waiting for? Like Natsume, he simply lacks the proper amount of gumption to act on his feelings, or even put them in forthright words to the necessary party.

Komiya, meanwhile, has a lot more gumption, which is why she comes so tantalizingly close to asking Izumi out via LINE. She wants to send something, but gets caught up on the structure, formality and perceived tone (another reason to just talk to someone).

She needs a little nudge—or in this case, the paw of her big fat cat—to send it, and when it’s read immediately, I really related to the waiting game she had to endure, as well as her elation upon getting a positive response from Izumi.

Komiya doesn’t know exactly what she’s feeling or what she wants, but she does want to move forward with exploring it, and more importantly, has the wherewithal to follow through in a timely, direct fashion. It would help her out a bit if Izumi wasn’t so dense—asking Siri (or a Siri equivalent)  what “date” means? Really?

Then we have Haruto, who like me, sees the wonderful chemistry Izumi and Komiya share, and see Komiya get so pumped about her date, and I just can’t help root for Komiya.

Naturally, on the morning of the date, Izumi runs into Natsume first, and Natsume is on to him; they’re so in sync, she even asked Siri the exact same question. Natsume’s on her way to cram school; she wasn’t trying to break up a date; but she looks awfully bitter when Komiya shows up, leading to one of the better-delivered exchanges of the episode, if not the whole show:

—”I told you no.”
—”Do I need your permission?”
—”Then, why did you ask?”
—”Well, just because.”

In addition to Komiya finally delivering the TITULAR LINEthis dialogue so nicely encapsulates the differences between Natsume and Komiya. Komiya didn’t ask permission just so she could do it anyway; she didn’t think Natsume would say no, or feel so strongly about Izumi at all.

After all, who’s spend more time with Izumi of late? Komiya. She’s not saying “shit or get off the pot,” but her way of doing things just naturally runs roughshod over Izumi’s more deliberate approach.

Also great? Natsume and Komiya having a moment of solidarity when they both tell Izumi that their cryptic discussion is “none of his business.”

Natsume doesn’t protest any further; she has to go to cram school. So Komiya carries on with her date with Izumi. And it’s such a nice, low-key date! She takes him places where she snaps photos…and he snaps a photo of her, which she then makes his wallpaper!

They look like they’re having so much goddamn fun, even sitting in the dark clubroom looking at photo albums. One of those albums show a first-year Natsume with her older sister Mina…

…Who we then segue to! Mina asks Mio why she wants to attend the same university as her, telling her she should go to the one she wants. Seems a bit late in the game to be telling her this, but it does expose a certain “running on inertia” style to Natsume’s life.

Right now, she defines her purpose, first and foremost, of entering college, which is the same one as her sister, probably just because! What’s wrong with just because?

The sisters don’t happen to spot Izumi walking Komiya home after their adorably awesome date…which is for the best; enough coincidences, already! But that album photo reminded both Izumi and Komiya that there’s another side to their triangle, and it’s a side Izumi is studying hard to stay beside in the future.

With that in mind, Komiya asks Izumi why the heck he doesn’t just confess to her. His answer—”I would if I could”, doesn’t satisfy anyone; particularly himself.

So Komiya does what she’s always done to reasonable good effect: go her own way, proceed, persevere, hope. Now winning a prize at the photo competition isn’t just about keeping the club alive, it will determine whether she confesses her love to Izumi.

And no, Izumi, she’s not making a funny joke, she’s picking a direction and going. If you don’t like it, say something; do something. Otherwise, enjoy the journey.

*****

With all this talk about the triangle, I almost forgot about Souma and Morikawa! It’s…fine, they’re fine; they’re just not quite as compelling. She still owes him an answer. It was good to see Souma continue to get along with the bros, and Morikawa’s little makeover, which Izumi of all people sees first (and does a double take), was a cute and unexpected way to close the episode.

Net-juu no Susume – 06

So, here we are: Hayashi and Lily IRL. Was it a setup by Koiwai? Apparently not; due to her Elite NEET status, Morioka got the day wrong. Little does she know that Sakurai is really Lily, which is the true reason he knew to where and when to “rescue” her from the wrong day.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: Sakurai is, like, totally into Morioka, and their date goes as swimmingly and is as enjoyable as when they’re hanging out in the MMO…maybe moreso! It’s just as enjoyable to watch, despite the fact neither party treats this as an official, “real” date.

I’m a little disappointed things are more complicated than Koiwai staging a setup to get the two together. That seems to be what he’s doing anyway, considering he stops joking around and directly asks Sakurai if he’s really okay with him going out alone with Mori-Mori tomorrow. I’d personally be fine with Koiwai graciously backing out of the triangle rather than keeping the heat on.

I was also a bit miffed that Sakurai made no serious effort to tell Morioka the truth about their being MMO partners. What could have been a built-in in with Morioka instead needlessly muddies the waters. There’s never going to be a good time to tell her, but he needn’t keep holding off the truth until it’s a unequivocally bad time; or worse, to late to salvage any kind of relationship.

Sure, I’m getting ahead of myself, but c’mon; we’re not honestly supposed to be rooting for Koiwai and Morioka. Still, while Koiwai teases both Sakurai and Morioka incessantly, he also shows that he genuinely cares about both of them, and isn’t putting on any act for Morioka (who is almost constantly selling herself short).

Morioka thinks the last two days to be almost too good to be true, but I was glad when she corrected herself earlier and said “thank you” instead of her usual unnecessary apologies. I also liked how she mentioned she might not have left her job if she had co-workers as kindhearted as Sakurai and Koiwai. This suggests that a part of her didn’t really want to resign, but it felt like the best way out of a bad situation.

In any case, it’s wonderful to behold Moiroka’s jubilation upon returning home and, more importantly, re-entering the MMO as Hayashi after two straight nights of going out and drinking as Morioka. It isn’t long before Lily shows up. Sakurai looked like he was in agony the whole night Koiwai was out with Morioka, but he’s decidedly relieved-looking upon her return to the MMO and his (well, Lily’s) side.

Still, I worry he’s being far too passive. Allow Koiwai go out with Morioka too much unchallenged, and there’s a good chance Koiwai falls for her and says “Sorry Sakura-chan, you had your chance!” Heck, that may already be happening! The only one who can do anything about this sad state of affairs is the one enduring them. And he’s only got four episodes left to do it!

Net-juu no Susume – 05

Last week, Sakurai seemed to have all but figured out that Hayashi is Morioka, and comes so tantalizingly close to asking her about it…only to back away at the last second. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!

Ah well, I guess it is bad online manners to guess someone’s identity out of the blue, and who knows how she’d react if he guessed correctly. But while he harbors serious doubts that such a series of coincidences could occur, his suspicions about Hayashi being Morioka IRL still remain (Also, the show apparently wasn’t quite ready to open up that can of worms).

Also, what’s this? Koiwai casually telling Sakurai he can come along? Saying the whole reason he arranged this was for his sake? This is the friend I knew Koiwai was; trying to jump-start a relationship that is stuck in, well, MMO-land (little does he know).

Morioka, meanwhile, tries to relax about the whole prospect of drinks with a guy, realizing it’s no big deal…but when she starts listing in her head all of the things she needs to do regarding her makeup, hair, and attire, she quickly becomes overwhelmed.

She’s snapped out of this state by the friendly clerk Fujimoto, who formally introduces himself. When he learns she and Morioka are on the same server, he comes right out and tells her his name…Kanbe. A guy finally does learn who “Hayashi” is…just not the right guy.

That being said, neither Kanbe nor Lilac (who doesn’t know, but partakes in a rhetorical discussion on the matter) would judge any friend for switching their gender online. Heck, Lilac’s friend at university plays a guy. Morioka is sorry to Kanbe for lying, but Kanbe tells her it’s up to her whether to tell anyone else, including Lily.

When Hayashi mentions he’s going out for drinks tomorrow, Sakurai starts to think maybe he isn’t Morioka, since she and Koiwai aren’t going for drinks until the day after tomorrow. When Hayashi asks Lily what to wear, he gives the best answer he can, only to be pressed further by Kanbe, backing Morioka up.

Kanbe and Lily get into a pretty heated argument about what length of hair is best, and Morioka settles on a medium length. The haircut, along with a new outfit matching Lily’s advice, runs Morioka a pretty penny, and she can’t help but itemize it in terms of loot boxes. She also realizes how rusty she’s become at things like applying mascara.

However, she gets herself made up, dressed, and together, and heads to the agreed-upon meeting place…on the wrong day. Koiwai is away on business until tomorrow, and Sakurai is worried. He’s worried Morioka got the day wrong, wait there, get shown up, and take it the wrong way.

So in the middle of a quest with the other members of the guild, Lily suddenly logs out, and Sakurai heads to the site of the date. I dreaded the fact he might not recognize her after her makeover, but thankfully he does notice her walking away looking sad, and calls out.

Now, this encounter doesn’t immediately, definitively prove to Sakurai that Morioka is Hayashi, nor to Morioka that Sakurai is Lily. But it comes pretty damn close! The question is, did Morioka really get the day mixed up, or did Koiwai arrange it so that only the two of them would meet?

If that’s the case, good-intentioned or not, and even if Sakurai’s a better fit for her, Koiwai will owe Morioka an apology and explanation for his machinations. After all, she expected, and waited an hour, for him, not Sakurai.

Net-juu no Susume – 04

A new series of cute loot and a bonus point campaign spur Morika, already in high spirits upon becoming partners with Lily, to splurge a little. Only a happy circumstance takes place at the convenience store as she has to wait a few minutes for the store’s e-money system to boot.

Those minutes are spent suddenly learning that the store clerk is also a fan of Fruits de Mer, and goes on and on about it in a way Morioka find very fulfilling. They have so much fun talking, the clerk neglects the fact there’s a guy who needs his cigs!

Even so, it was exhilarating for Morioka to finally talk with someone about MMOs in real life. In the game, Hayashi encounters Kanbe and Lilac, the latter of which has just gone to the loot outlet and picked out some stuff that’s very fluffy and cute, but Kanbe prefers what she usually wears.

We also meet Lilac’s real-life player, who both laments not having snatched up Hayashi as her partner and seems to have a bit of a spark with Kanbe. Hayashi manages to score both rare and common loot, but lucky Lily takes the cake by scoring the whole set.

When in-game, NjS packs a lot of neat details, like the way Lilac sees Hayashi as a sensitive guy (compared to Kanbe) rather than what he actually is—a she; Pokotarou suddenly spawning in the same space as Lilac, obscuring her avatar; or Himeralda’s player playing as her husband, who plays Pokotarou; a surprising and clever occurrence.

But NjS makes good use of both of its worlds, and seems really balanced this week. Sakurai is depressed about not being able to see Morioka, and as he lists off all the ways he’s tried, Koiwai rightly suspects him of stalking, which isn’t good.

But then…Koiwai stakes out the convenience store, bumps into Morioka as planned, and works his businessman magic. Morioka is initially like, “why is this guy talking to me?!” and rightly so, even if she weren’t naturally shy; but once they get to talking they establish a quick rapport, though Koiwai comes off as a little pushy in gaining her contact info.

When Koiwai shows Sakurai what he’s done, how he managed to get a date with Morioka, Sakurai’s expression is of shock, which if the camera had lingered would have surely turns to dejection. Is Koiwai simply helping Sakurai out, or does he want to date Morioka? I hope it’s the former; besides seeming like a nice guy, what kind of friend would stab him in the back like that?

That brings us back into the game, where Hayashi goes to a, yup, dejected-looking Lily, who reminds them that since they’re partners, he can come to her to talk any time. Morioka, through Hayashi, words things very carefully in telling Lily the story of how she ended up in the hospital on an IV all the way to accepting a date from a former work colleague.

The coincidences are far too many, and Sakurai is no fool; he connects the dots, flipping Hayashi’s gender to make her Morioka. Now all he needs to do is believe the deduction he’s just made and proceed from there. After all, despite thinking he’s had no contact with Morioka, all this time he’s had all the contact, and they’re already partners, for gosh sakes. It’s high time the RL players need to catch up to their MMO counterparts.

Net-juu no Susume – 02

Well, first of all, NJS has a solid OP. Great vocals, orchestration, and visuals. Really gets you pumped for the episode!

While exploring a dungeon deep into the night, Hayashi’s fellow guild member Lilac notices she’s always online, and guesses that she’s 21 and a university student, like her. That leads to the guildmaster Kanbe having to pay out for losing the bet on Hayashi’s real age.

Moriko feels bad for lying about her age, but is also relieved it won’t come up anymore. Meanwhile, Lily is pretty upfront about being older than Hayashi, and calls him “serious and kindhearted.” Moriko wants to tell Lily more, and wants to learn more about her, so they make a promise to do just that.

Fate strikes both Moriko and Lily’s player once again when he elbows Moriko (out to get cold medicine) while rounding a corner on his way to work (ironically, because he stayed up playing a netoge with Moriko!)

While out cold, Moriko meets an angel (perhaps her online friend from the previous MMO she played) and also enters a Brazil-style distopia in which endless columns of identitcal salarymen enter the Tower of Bebel only to jump into an abyss. Grim!

Moriko awakens in hospital, with a handsome young man with blond hair  sitting beside her bed. He’s Sakurai Yuuta, and he wants to make amends for accidentaly elbowing her. He leaves her his contact info and assures her she can text or call anytime, for any reason.

Moriko returns to FdM, where his comrades are ready and willing to hear what’s eating Hayashi. When he tells them, Lilac and Himeralda think it sounds like the intro to a romance manga and, thinking Hayashi’s player is a guy, urge him to ask her out…he may even get lucky!

Guildmaster Kanbe is more down-to-earth; nothing need be done except for what must: she should send a text thanking him at the very least and telling him she’s all good; as it would do no good to make him worry. Moriko agrees, and jumps offline to text Sakurai. She’s shocked to get an immediate reply asking if she’d let him take her out to eat as an apology.

Morioka likes this guy, but thinks he’s too good and too “blinding” for her, and a look in the mirror doesn’t help her confidence (though character design-wise, she’s hardly unattractive). Ironically, then it’s another encounter with Lily (i.e. Sakurai) that convinces her to send him a proper reply—which she sends at two in the morning!—though we’ll have to wait and see the contents of said reply.

Lily makes Morioka’s chest feel warm, reminding her that no matter how perfect someone may seem, everyone has problems and doubts, and she need not fear how someone who has already been so kind to her will regard her. The only way to know for sure is to move forward. Even eyebrow-plucking isn’t mandatory!

Owarimonogatari S2 – 02

Those ‘battles to come’ Izuko mentioned at the end of “Mayoi Hell”? They weren’t fought or shown in Part Two, “Hitagi Rendezvous”. Instead they remain just over the horizon, foreboding in their present invisibility.

“Rendezvous” is instead primarily interested in re-introducing Senjougahara Hitagi as a prominent figure in Koyomi’s life. Even though she’s kinda always been prominent in his heart and thoughts, we’ve seen so little of her since Koimonogatari that even she seems to be struggling with her character…which is pretty hilarious.

In any case, she’s saved up a ton of “points” that she intends to cash in on with a day-long date with her boyfriend (ending promptly by 7pm so she can have dinner with her father.) It’s also White Day, and they both graduate the day after tomorrow, so now’s the time to enjoy one last gasp of high school romance (before it becomes a college romance).

Ononoki is still hanging out in Koyomi’s house, given the mission by Kagenui to keep an eye on him until ordered to stop (and implying if Kagenui never returns to recind the order, she’ll stay by Koyomi’s side the rest of her life). Tsukihi’s cameo consists of her grabbing and walking off with Ononoki, claiming she’s her favorite plushie.

From then, it’s on to the date! Senjougahara has adopted a Hanekawa-style hairdo, and also acquired a driver’s license having aced her driving test on the first try. She also points out that until very recently (since his “return”) Koyomi has been unable to acquire a license, since as a vampire he wouldn’t show up in photos.

Senjougahara is not your cliched bad driving anime woman; she simply drives Koyomi safely and well without any drama to the first stop on their date: the planetarium. We and Koyomi first learn of her dream to draw the “perfect space map” of the celestial bodies that surround earth on all sides; such maps are shaped like a hand fan, which is also called…an ougi.

Having recently experienced string of action-packed days—dying, travelling to the depths of hell, exams—one can forgive Koyomi for nodding off while lying on the comfy beds below the planetarium dome. When he does, he dreams of Ougi, and Dream Ougi seems to be just as “real” as her physical version.

Instead of Senjougahara, it’s Ougi who shows Koyomi various constellations which match the animals that have represented the oddities/apparitions of his exploits. Shinobu is depicted as a Hydra, Hitagi a Crab; Nadeko the serpent.

Ougi also tells Koyomi she represents “the principles of the universe”, further tying into the fan-shaped map of the cosmos, and tells him of her duty to “eject” those who “break the rules.” They include Izuko, Shinobu, and the newly-resurrected Mayoi. And she hopes, for Koyomi’s sake, he “forsakes” them, thereby assisting her in correcting the mistakes of the universe.

With that, Koyomi wakes up beside Senjougahara (who also nodded off), and from there, they jump from place to place on their date, following up the educational planetarium and science museum with lunch, bowling, and karaoke, with Koyomi unexpectedly beating her in the latter two categories. As “punishment” for losing, Senjougahara walks arm-in-arm and even lets him princess-carry her back to the car.

Finally, after Koyomi admits he hasn’t been able to get Senjougahara a White Day gift, she parks the car by the waterfront and scolds him. But he can make it up to her by taking her hand in his and calling her by her first name, Hitagi, which he does, in one of the most genuinely moving romantic scenes in the entire Monogatari series—and they don’t even kiss! It’s all in the signature closeups and Saito Chiwa’s delivery.

After the credits, Koyomi finds himself alone in another dreamlike dark space with Ougi, who implies his date with Senjougahara was his “last”, or might well be, depending on the choices he makes. If he wants to be Ougi’s ally, he’ll have to help her fight Izuko, “the big sister who knows everything”, and avoid her apparent traps.

Koyomi begain Part Two with a monologue about how his story so far was one of self-preservation; preserving not only one’s life, but prioritizing his love for himself, to the point love with anyone else wasn’t possible. But since he fell for Senjougahara, he feels he’s been gradually losing his narcissism. So has that part of him taken the shape of Oshino Ougi, and is now fighting the “New Koyomi” who has come to love Hitagi more than himself?

Sadly, those questions, and the battles for which Koyomi must choose a side, will not be covered here; this is the end of Owarimonogatari after just two episodes (Edit: apparently not)! But we can be fairly certain Koyomi won’t forsake Shinobu or Mayoi…and we’ll also see one of Koyomi’s inner thoughts—“to win there is an absolute need to lose somewhere along the way”—put to the test. Koyomi’s already lost his vampirism, for good and ill. Who or what will he lose in the final battle(s)?

Hajimete no Gal – 04

While wholesomely innocently researching “gals” on the interwebs to learn how to interact with Yame and Ranko better, Junichi comes across an extremely cute gal with a loyal following. This gal’s necklace has the same snake motif as Kashii Yui’s hairpin, so yeah, it’s pretty evident from the start that “Boa-sama” is Yui in disguise.

Yui is always presenting a calm, mature identity at school, but beneath that exterior she’s a vain, arrogant, imperious girl, labeling all of her classmates with various servant’s names and titles. Junichi has always been a loyal “doggy” to her, and isn’t interested in sharing him with some uncultured gal.

While Yame is hanging out with her galfriends, Yui springs out of the bushes and strikes like the snake she loves wearing, taking an extremely dumb Junichi on a date.

Meanwhile it’s on the tip of Shinpei’s tongue who Boa-sama reminds him of; an increasingly irritated and thus less careful Boa throws him a bone by describing him and his crew of losers to a man.

While secretly recording her flirting with Junichi in the classroom (which is illegal in Japan), Boa-sama gets final visual proof and shares it with the lads, who are shocked by the revelation. Despite Shinpei’s efforts to reveal his discovery in secret, Ranko gets wind of it.

Sensing that being blunt will be best against the painfully dense Junichi, Yui passionately confesses to him on the roof. When he turns her down (as he’s dating Yame), she immediately cracks and her extremely fiery, petulant personality gushes out.

She also plays her trump card: she secretly recorded her date with him (which is illegal in Japan), and orders him to break up with Yame and go out with her, or she’ll send the video to Yame.

That’s checkmate for Junichi…or it would be if he didn’t have a gang of friends watching both his back and Yame’s. Ranko arrives with the three losers, superhero-style (complete with ill-advised high jump off a ledge; Ranko lands as a hero would; the guys eat shit).

Ranko counters Yui’s Yame-harming blackmail with blackmail of her own: the knowledge that Yui is Boa-sama. Yui surrenders, but she won’t give up so easily, and the war has only begun…just as Junichi’s well-endowed childhood friend prepares to take the stage.

While the lack of any real suspense regarding who Boa-sama was, and Junichi’s general incompetence in everything but being an easy mark for…just about anyone, the episode was buoyed by Taketatsu Ayana’s strong performance voicing the many sides of Yui, and while the lolicon guy still needs to stop talking, the losers, Shinpei in particular, were in top form this week.

Saekano 2 – 11 (Fin)

Megumi and Tomoya go on a date, not just because it seems like the thing to do after the rest of the harem has cleared out, but to cheer one another up. It’s clear it’s not a one-sided case of Megumi cheering Tomoya up from the look of a soundless flashback in which she reacts dramatically to Eriri’s news she’s moving on from the group.

Megumi also seems to take great joy in shopping for clothes and shoes with Tomoya around. Even if he has no fashion sense or money to speak of, his company is appreciated and their instincts—like the one to hold hands in the crowded section—are often in sync.

By the end of the trip, Tomoya is feeling much better, as is Megumi, and the former makes sure they stop by a hat store so he can get her the same white hat she was wearing when he first envisioned her as his main heroine, as thanks both for her company and for getting him glasses last time.

Megumi is touched by the gesture, and when they return to that fateful hill, she tells Tomoya “she’s not giving up”. It strikes me as having dual meaning, as she intends to move forward with the doujin group even without Eriri and Utaha…and intends to make Tomoya fall completely for her.

Tomoya agrees they should move forward, but when his laughter turns to tears of loss, she reaches out to embrace him, only to then pulls back.

Now sufficiently cheered up, cried out, and ready to move forward, Tomoya takes it upon himself to see Eriri and Utaha off, surprising them both on the platform of their train to Osaka. Their looks say it all; Eriri in particular can’t believe he’ll forgive them.

But it’s not about forgiveness at all for Tomoya; it’s about wishing his two dear and wonderfully talented friends good luck on their exciting new venture. And I don’t think he’s putting on airs—one doesn’t turn down something like Fields Chronicle, and he thinks their “god-tier” talent can make it the best ever.

This sendoff, complete with a Megumi phone call with the same positive, concilatory intent, is enough to bring Eriri, Tomoya, and even Utaha to tears. It’s a bittersweet moment, one perhaps made a bit more silly when after Eriri removes Tomoya’s glasses, intending to keep them, then leans in to kiss, it’s Utaha who steals a big, long smooth with Tomoya, and Eriri is forced to whip out her twintails for the first time in a long while. They also miss their train in the excitement.

But no matter; they’re on their way. Post-credits, Tomoya and Megumi are both on first name terms, now seniors in school, chattering away with their usual excellent chemistry and bonhomie. Then, to their surprise, Hashima Izumi appears, a recent transfer, and Tomoya understands Iori’s words about sending his sister to a place where her talents can be put to best use.

Will Izumi be the artist for Tomoya and Megumi’s game? Perhaps, but it’s a certainty that Michiru will score the music once again. Hey, remember Michiru? The show makes sure to let us know it’s in on the joke regarding her absence for the back half of the season (which, frankly, was fine).

But notably, Michiru is conversing with Eriri and Utaha, who are watching Tomoya from afar. Eriri is still enrolled in the school, but the graduated Utaha is there because “it’s a free country.” The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Saekano 2 – 10

It’s very rare indeed for an episode to come around that gives you everything you wanted; everything you held out hope would come to pass but didn’t dare expect. And yet, well, here we are.

The completion of Cherry Blessing was an arc closure at an odd time in the run of a season, but the groundwork that was laid thereafter pays off wonderfully here, as Kashiwagi Eri decides to Take Her Talents to Rouge Beach, thus enabling Kasumi Utako to come along for the ride.

We start in the aftermath of that hellish meeting with Akane, still shaken from the abuse they were forced to endure. Utaha is no less honest and upfront as Akane was: she’s steaming mad that she’s being treated as an afterthought; a James Jones, if you will.

But as much as she hates Akane for doing so, she still agrees with the producer that Eriri is many years too early and too green to presume she’s “in a slump.” If Eriri agrees to do Fields Chronicle, Utaha will strive to crush her, even as they collaborate.

Of course she does. Competition, even outside one’s own field, drives a creative like Utaha. She wouldn’t be who she is if she didn’t treat Eriri as a rival; and when such a massive job comes around such as this, her’s is the name she’ll want spoken first in praise of the game.

Eriri laments that Utaha is dumping such a huge decision on her alone, but Utaha points out she’s not the one doing the dumping; that’s Akane. Utaha never had a choice. But if Eriri says yes, she’ll work with her, and not just because she’ll be able to as part of the deal with Akane, but because she believes the two of them can move forward together.

Not long thereafter, Eriri calls Utaha out of the blue, inviting her to join her back at school, where Eriri announces she’s defeated her slump and has her drawing touch back.

She forgot to bring the sketches to prove it to a giddy, over-the-moon Utaha (who curses Eriri for being so damn useless), but Eriri doesn’t need them, and instead proves it by sketching then coloring a gorgeous portrait right before a stunned Utaha.

She is indeed back, and Eriri responds to Utaha’s approval with smiles and laughter, but those turn to bitter tears when Eriri thinks of the reason she can draw again. As much as she wanted it to be because Tomoya wanted her and because of his support and love, she can draw again because of the less-than two minutes Akane spent insulting her.

Akane’s tirade did what it was meant to do, whether Akane meant to do it or not: Rattle Eriri’s cage; rattle it until the latch slips loose and Kashiwagi Eri can be fully released from behind the iron bars of Tomoya’s safe, comfortable doujin group.

That place is no longer conducive to the creative growth required for Eriri to be as amazing as she can be—and as Tomoya said she could be. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but Eriri does so, and Utaha offers a comforting hug in the process. You heard right: Eriri and Utaha hug. 

In return for her empathy, Eriri warns Utaha not to let Akane look down on her. Utaha had seemed thus far to be taking Akane’s words as gospel because she’s so experienced and successful, but Eriri, staunch Kasumi Utako fan, offers a different view: Akane “isn’t anything special” if she would so blithely underestimate Utaha’s talent.

That, in turn, elicits tears from Utaha, but she wipes them before bumping fists with Eriri, the first step on their new and exciting journey that is almost asssured to make them a part of video game history.

That leaves Tomoya Aki, whom I half-expected to blow his top and throw some kind of temper tantrum at the news that not only would Utaha be backing out of his group, but Eriri would too, thus “betraying” him for the second time in their long years together.

But I found that such a half-prediction was selling Tomoya short. He’s certainly not elated by the (off-camera) defections, but he’s a big boy, and he’ll get over it. I was pleased with how mature he acted, while Hashima Iori, who left rouge en rouge with Izumi for, presumably, the same reason Eriri and Utaha left Blessing (to grow), urges Tomoya not to quit game developing and creating just because he lost his two “golden geese.”

And I totally get why: Eriri and Utaha were just as much training wheels as geese; he’ll now have to test his producer mettle other people; creatives who may not be as hugely talented, and people who won’t be lured into working for him by the feelings they harbor for him!

But there’s another reason Tomoya will be just fine: his harem has been shattered, and with it all the myriad routes he could have chosen to take. Now there is one route, and it leads him up the same sakura-scattered hill, where a familiar figure seems to be waiting for him…

That figure is, naturally, Kato Megumi, the girl who is best suited for Tomoya, and always was; a girl he won’t be stifling creatively, because they work so well together. She’s returned to the short hair that first inspired Tomoya into making a video game about a nice, astonishingly ordinary, “boring” girl.

Tomoya, in turn, drew Eriri and Utaha into his orbit. Normal as she may sound and appear, without Megumi there’s no Blessing Software, no Cherry Blessing, and no Fields Chronicle offer. She was their heroine, the heroine, and now he’s his. And like any good heroine, she makes the first move, suggesting they go out on a date at once.

Sounds good to me! Well done, show: Satisfying resolutions, character growth, and so many feels.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 08

Simplicity can contain multitudes. By that, I mean sometimes there’s a lot to be found in a pure, unembellished tale of first love of the kind blooming between Koutarou and Akane. With Chinatsu out of the way (an unpleasant but necessary step), all that stands between the two is their gossiping peers at school, eager to know all there is to know.

But there isn’t that much to know. Akane doesn’t even give a straight answer to the question “Why Azumi?” She may not be able to put it in words, but that doesn’t bother her; she doesn’t care why she likes him, she just…does. And he likes her, which is why they now actively do all they can to see as much of each other as possible, during which time they’ll explore more about the ‘why’.

During their private lunch in the library, Kotarou gets a text asking him to attend a hayashi practice, and Akane pounces on the opportunity to see her boyfriend perform, which he does. Just as Akane seemed to run harder, Kotarou dances harder, impressing the hell out of his girlfriend.

Kotarou also gets nods of approval from his hayashi peers, one of whom suggests the couple attend Hikawa Shrine’s Summer festival, famous for its hanging wind chime fortunes. Akane arrives at their meeting spot for the date in full yukata. Kotarou is loving the look; Akane is loving how he’s loving it.

A near-perfect festival date ensues, with no one getting lost or bumping into unwanted secondary characters. Akane also cuts her foot on her sandal, but Kotarou tenderly bandages it when she can’t bend over in the yukata. They don’t let anything spoil their enjoyment of the night and of each other.

Akane ducks away for a bit, but only once she hears Kotarou’s most recent birthday has already passed, and decides to get him a little present: the same beanbag stress toy she has. The only remaining ‘drama’ is her trying to finding the right time and place to present it to him.

Once she does, she feels much better, and Kotarou is grateful, and decides the time has come for him to call his girlfriend by her first name, and she, in turn, calls him by his. And with no one around to suddenly stop them, they finally connect for real on their first kiss, finishing what they started last week and hadn’t been able to stop thinking about.

It all happens to the tune of a rendition of “Summer Festival”, which I last heard in Re:Life. The camera keeps a tasteful distance, underscoring how the two must feel like they’re in their own little world. The next time her friends at school ask, Akane can tell them being with Kotarou makes her feel safe.

The parting shot of what the two wrote on their chime wishes—they both wrote the same thing: to be together forever—is a little mushy, but who cares! I daresay these kids are gonna be alright, and there’s a quiet thrill in watching them steadily improve at this thing called courtship.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 05

It’s an incremental episode with little action, but I can hardly complain when it’s also stuffed full of nice character beats from everyone. Take Nina, going shopping with Mugaro and naturally assuming he’s a girl because he’s so pretty, and dressing him accordingly. Nina cleans up pretty well herself, not that her standard, practical outfit isn’t nice in its own way.

Nina uses her super-strength to negotiate discounts, but it also allows her to stand up against a pimp-like human for torturing his slaves. Brand-new frilly dress or no, she’s ready to rumble with him and his bodyguards when Mugaro uses his red eye to vaporize all of the demon slaves’ collars, causing their former owner and his goons to flee.

Meanwhile, Kaisar is having a crisis of confidence, unsure if he’s worthy of captaining the Orleans Knights in Jeanne d’Arc’s stead. What’s so wonderful is how he expresses this frustration, inviting Rita to lunch, then sounding an awful lot like he’s about to confess to her. Rita is understandably miffed that Kaisar only wants to rant, and punishes him accordingly, while also telling him the old Kaisar of ten years ago may have been useless, but he was better than this Kaisar.

Bacchus’s moral dilemma intensifies when Sofiel pays him a visit complaining that he’s not doing enough to secure the “child;” but it’s only when Nina returns with Mugaro that he starts to suspect Mugaro is the very child he’s looking for. Sofiel thinks Bacchus is pathetic for not caring about staying in the human world forever, and it’s clear at least a part of Bacchus wants to obey her and produce the child…but another part of him doesn’t.

Getting punched by Rita motivates Kaisar to confront the King once more, and gives some very reasoned arguments, but Charioce argues his position well, too, even if he’s a bit overconfident he can become powerful enough to overcome the hatred his hatred will beget. Kaisar rightly believes Charioce’s way of doing things simply isn’t sustainable, and it’s only a matter of time before a large scale demon uprising is upon them (as we see earlier, Azazel is well on his way to starting it). But Charioce says he’s got it. To his credit, he doesn’t begrudge Kaisar living his life the way he chooses, as long as he doesn’t interfere with him.

One of Bahamut’s strengths is its ability to be so stern and serious in one scene, and so lighthearted and comical in the next—and sometimes both in the same scene. So it’s nice to see Kaisar and Charioce’s political debate followed by Bacchus and Hamsa’s ham-fisted attempt to see if Mugaro has two different-colored eyes, only to wake up and creep out Nina, who delivers swift justice and tosses them out of their own wagon.

No huge movement here, but still plenty of solidly entertaining scenes. Nina in particular continues to be a magnetic presence. I could honestly watch and listen to her read the phone book—which makes me that much more excited to see how she’ll fit into the coming confrontation.