Kageki Shoujo!! – 08 – The Bus Stop by the Sea

Back at school after summer break, Hoshino Kaoru is sporting a new super-short hairstyle, in keeping with her goal to become an otoko-yaku, but soon  scolds Sarasa and Ai for allowing themselves to get a tan. Flashback to a formative summer in Kaoru’s life: the summer before her third year of high school, her last chance to get into Kouka…and when she fell in love for the first time.

Kaoru walking on sunny days with an umbrella was derided by some, not only was it odd behavior, but also presumptuous to those who knew her pedigree. While using a bus stop to the hospital to visit her gran (recovering from surgery), she encounters Tsuji Rikuto, the younger brother of a famous rising star of baseball.

Since his gran is so into the Kouka Revue and he overheard from mean girls of Kaoru’s relation, Rikuto works up the courage to ask her about the troupe, but is interrupted by another girl in love with his brother to give him her love letter. He refuses, and shortly thereafter, Kaoru tells him her name.

At first, Rikuto thinks she’s another girl trying to get closer to his bro through him, but she quickly clears that up by telling him about the expectations being the daughter of a Kouka actress and granddaughter of a top star, and he gets it; they’re like kindred spirits.

Of the two, Kaoru is the one more keen to fight against those who would define them by their more accomplished relations, and it’s her texts to him encouraging him to be himself and not worry about being compared that causes an uptick in Rikuto’s baseball play.

Their bus stop encounters and bus rides soon become something both look forward to, such that Kaoru starts visiting her gran more so she can also see Rikuto. She confides in him how she’d never be somebody to say “I’m getting in” knowing how hard it really is (Sarasa doesn’t have that problem). Kaoru is all about the hard work, right down to covering up in the sun to avoid getting tanned.

When she shows off the skirt she’s wearing, eager to wear as many as she can before she gets into wearing men’s clothes when she’s an otoko-yaku, Rikuto is sure that even if she had a mustache she’d be pretty. It’s the first time a boy ever called her pretty, and she wasn’t prepared for how happy it made her.

Rikuto eventually asks Kaoru out to the fireworks festival marking the end of summer; unaware that it would also mark the end of their brief, cozy romance. Before meeting him there, his grandmother assures her she doesn’t have to keep trying to become a Kouka actress if she doesn’t want to.

Kaoru isn’t about to tell her still-recovering gran that she’s full of shit, but she’s still down in the dumps when she meets Rikuto. For a time, him complimenting her yukata catching her when she’s pushed by some kids, and holding her hand is enough to soothe her troubled heart.

But then she asks why Rikuto seems so down, and he tells her that he’s questioning what the point of forcing himself to follow in his brother’s footsteps and fulfill everyone’s expectations of him…then he says he’s sure Kaoru thinks the same way all the time.

Kaoru…does not. Like her gran, and practically everyone else in her life, Rikuto doesn’t understand her after all; that this is precisely the path she chose to walk and she’s never questioned why she was walking it. She’s not trying to get into Kouka for anyone other than herself.

As she runs away from Rikuto in tears, she calls herself stupid for feeling jealous of the “typical high school girl’s life”, including having a boy worry about her and cheer her up. She runs along the beach singing a song, her voice wavering from her flowing tears, but eventually her voice clears as heartbreak turns into iron determination.

She swears to herself she’s going to make it. The normal life isn’t for her. She’s bound for the world of dreams and glamour.

While she intends to make a clean break by blocking Rikuto on her phone, his team actually makes it to the Koshien prelim final, and he just so happens to hit a game-winning pinch-hit home run as Kaoru is walking past a TV in the window broadcasting his game.

Despite knowing nothing about baseball (except what he taught her), and how things turned out at the fireworks festival, Kaoru is still happy Rikuto got to play, and win. Seeing him succeed on TV showed her that he didn’t give up on his path after questioning the point of it all, and after he incorrectly assumed her motives for walking hers.

She still never went back to that seaside bus stop, but it reappears again at Kouka of all places, when Sarasa sees it going viral on social media. Some mystery person left a note on the wall of the stop saying he didn’t give up and thanking another mystery person. Being a hopeless romantic, this kind of thing is right up Sarasa’s alley.

As the newly-shorn Kaoru examines the picture, she smiles knowingly and blushes ever so slightly. Of the thousands sharing that picture, only she and Rikuto know who it’s for and what it means, just like only they know what they want to do in life and are going to go after it with everything they can.

Hoshino Kaoru closes this incredibly moving portrait of her character the way one would close an epic romantic movie: by saying that when she gets to walk out on that Silver Bridge, she’ll save Rikuto “a primo seat in the SS section”…and maybe even say she was in love with him one bright, beautiful summer.

The perfect parting shot of the two having fun at the bus stop by the sea, at the height of that summer and the height of their love, was a thing of exquisite bittersweet beauty—as was the closing theme as sung by Kaoru ‘s seiyu Taichi You. And just like that, I’m in love with yet another character in this show, along with Sarasa, Ai, and Ayako.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

Kageki Shoujo!! – 07 – The Curse of “Never”

Summer Break is upon Kouka’s hundredth class, but Ai’s version of giddiness over getting to spend it at Sarasa’s is somewhat tempered by how the semester ended: with Sarasa taking a major hit from Andou-sensei. As I suspected, perfect replication of other actors isn’t going to cut it if you’re going to be a Top Star in the Kouka Revue. This doesn’t mesh with what Sarasa learned about kabuki growing up, where succeeding generations of actors do their best to embody their predecessors as closely as possible.

But that’s Kabuki; and this is Kouka. Sarasa and Ai also get a little education on Andou-sensei and why he’s nicknamed “Phantom”, courtesy of the two top Kouka stars who happened to be seated in the row ahead of them! Apparently Andou was an esteemed actor with a musical troupe, most famous for his Phantom of the Opera, but due to a stage accident he had to retire, and decided to teach instead.

I’m glad he did, because as I said, as painful as it was to see Sarasa’s reaction and ensuing gloom, she was straying from the path to Lady Oscar, and needed a course correction. Fortunately, there’s plenty of family and friends waiting for Sarasa to take her mind off being “Sara-sad”, if only temporarily.

Ai insists on sitting formally for the duration of the gathering downstairs, even though she’s mostly ignored and suffering the agony needlessly (gramps told her to sit however she likes). Then Sarasa then goes to see her grandma at her grave, suggesting Ai can hang with the cat while she’s gone.

Of course, we know even when Sarasa and Ai don’t that it’s not just the cat waiting in her room, but Akiya. Ai, who is not good with people, comes off as curt with Akiya, who misinterprets it as intentional rudeness, but when Ai profusely apologizes and hides behind a wall, Akiya’s stance softens.

When asked about his “girlfriend” Sarasa, all he’ll tell Ai is that they were childhood friends since forever, and they took traditional dance classes together. Fortunately, we get to learn a lot more about both Sarasa and Akiya’s past, and Sarasa comes out even more amazing for having enduring what she had to endure.

Basically, the famous kabuki actor Kouzaburou was always very close to Sarasa, so much so that rumors floated around of her being his illegitimate daughter. Illegitimate or not, had she been a boy, she would have been the heir apparent to the venerable Shirakawa Kaou name…which Akiya is expected to assume instead. He’s far more loosely related, but he’s a boy.

It didn’t help matters for Akiya that while he liked Sarasa a lot for her strength and cheerfulness, she also happened to be a better natural talent than him when it came to Kabuki. Unfortunately, Sarasa was never sat down and told that grown women aren’t allowed to perform Kabuki.

That said, when another actor is ill, Sarasa is chosen to fill in during a performance of Sukeroku, since she memorized all the lines and movements (even back then, she was amazing). Young girls are allowed to perform, so there was no problem.

But while performing beside her, Akiya could tell how goddamn good Sarasa was, and how goddamn unfair it was that Sarasa’s Kabuki career would reach a harsh dead end due to tradition. After the performance, he first hears the rumor that Sarasa is related to Kouzaburou, which he shares with his mom/grandma/aunt/guardian (I forget her exact relation to him).

Tossing that pebble in the pond causes all kinds of drama, including his mom* chewing out poor Sarasa at the front door, telling her for the first time she’ll “never” be able to be something—in this case, Sukeroku. As soon as Sarasa runs off crying she’s immediately ashamed and regretful, but the damage is done.

Sarasa’s gramps comes to Kouzaburou’s house and chews him out for traumatizing Sarasa, and declares that she’ll have nothing to do with him or Kabuki ever again. That said, gramps softens considerably upon seeing a scared Akiya in the hall, and asks him if he’ll continue being Sarasa’s friend. He’s only cutting her off from Kabuki, he says.

Shortly after Sarasa stopped coming to dance classes, her grandma died, and Akiya and Kaou pay their respects from a distance. When Akiya sees Sarasa’s raw eyes, he starts to cry too…and Kaou tells him to hold on to the pain…it will make him a better actor.

Fast-forward to the present, and Akiya and Sarasa remain friends despite having been kinda-sorta rivals in the past. The rivalry never happened because the institution of Kabuki never let it. I’d say it’s for the best, since I have every confidence Sarasa will be okay in Kouka, but if ever there was going to be a first woman kabuki actor, it would be her!

After giving Sarasa her present of another bizarre figurine she’s super excited about (which is also see-through, for reasons), he also invites both Sarasa and Ai to a performance of Sukeroku he’ll be in. He already got clearance from her gramps.

That night, Ai learns about Sarasa’s performance in Sukeroku when she was only six. The two girls are transported into space as Sarasa beautifully, poetically describes what it was like being on that stage, feeling the audience like heat on her skin, feeling like the stage was a different world; feeling she had transformed into someone else.

It was clearly one of the most amazing moments of her life, making it doubly tragic that she was later deprived of pursuing a future there despite how much she loved it and how good she was. Even so, hearing Sarasa’s words makes Ai want to go see Sukeroku with Sarasa all the more, if only to catch a glimpse of the stage Sarasa once stood upon.

During the performance, Ai notices Sarasa crying, and isn’t sure whether it’s due to fond memories or “something else entirely.” Uh, why not both? From there, the episode abruptly cuts to the train platform where Sarasa and Ai are heading home. Akiya gives Sarasa some words of support and assurance from his heart.

He reminds her they’ve only just started down their paths; it’s okay to lose sight of what they want sometimes; and all they can do is keep moving forward. Sarasa still wants to play Lady Oscar, and she’s going to make it happen—”nevers” be damned!

She also wants Akiya to play Sukeroku. After a firm handshake (throwing Ai off a bit, as she assumed they’d at least hug), the two part ways, both feeling better than before they’d seen each other. They may not be a lovey-dovey couple, but they’re a couple where it matters.

Kanojo mo Kanojo – 01 (First Impressions) – Good Faith Violation

Saki and Nagisa seem like nice people and are very cute, coming straight form the Quintessential Quintuplets school character design—not surprising as Tezuka Productions and director Kuwahara Satoshi helmed QQ’s first season. There’s another QQ connecting thread in a lad trying to juggle multiple relationships with very different personalities while also trying to figure out who he is.

The main problem is that our protagonist Naoya is a loud, unpleasant, incurable boob whose hollow-headedness and aw-shucks feigned righteousness aren’t nearly enough to excuse his conduct throughout this episode. Saki is clearly NOT into him dating someone else—Period! End of Story!—but he blows past her boundaries like a rom-com Tazmanian Devil, while also using the improbably keen and willing Nagisa as a cute prop.

In a just world, Saki and Nagisa would go off and be good friends together, leaving Naoya in punitive solitude to reflect on his many, many missteps. Instead the show seems primed to reward him again and again for his despicable behavior. We know from the jump that he mercilessly hassled Saki into agreeing to date him, as if the idea of “good old fashioned persistence” or “not taking no for an answer” were noble qualities in a young man.

To then present to Saki an almost comically ideal second girl he just met and corner her with the cruel ultimatum of “I’m either dating both of you or just her” just screams bad faith. Naoya can go on about being “upfront” and “honest” all he wants; bottom line is he’s a selfish jerk for putting Saki through everything he has. I just plain don’t like the guy, there’s no indication he’s going to become any more palatable. Even if he did, I’d resent the responsibility of nurturing his redemption foisted upon his girlfriends.

A anime that earnestly explores how three young people come to terms with their polyamory and navigate the difficult waters of that practice is an interesting, worthwhile concept. It doesn’t even have to take it super seriously! All I ask is that it approach that concept from a remotely informed angle, and not just freaking wing it. Or heck, at least be fair: have Nagisa or Saki present Naoya with a second boyfriend!

Instead, Girlfriend, Girlfriend, like its pushy MC, noisily demands we accept its non-negotiable, unreasonable, unbalanced, and above all disrespectful terms, for the sake of some kooky fun. I just don’t think I have the patience for it.

 

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 12 (Fin) – Her Skills, His Goals

After the big blow-up with Hinami, Tomozaki backslides hard into old habits and then some, as he’s even playing Tackfam with a bored look on his face that “really isn’t him.” He also failed to notice that he’d left poor Fuuka hanging by not looking at his phone for two days.

When he immediately texts back that he’ll go with her to pick up Andi’s new book, his sister acknowledges he “must be going through some stuff”, and to hang in there. While it’s a shame she never got a name, his sister (ably voiced by Hidaka Rina) struck a fine balance between typical imouto brattiness and sincere concern and quiet support for her big bro.

For his bookstore date with Fuuka, as with the fireworks date before, Tomozaki is determined to be his “real, unvarnished self”, ditching the task-and-goal based game mechanics Hinami had thrust upon him, which did nothing for Fuuka. Still, as he looks at his re-disheveled appearance in the mirror of the cafe restroom, he can’t deny that meeting Hinami’s goals made him happy too.

In keeping with his desire to remain real and unvarnished with her always, Tomozaki tells Fuuka how he’s still a little mixed up. He reveals how he had a coach teach him how to play the game of life, but how speaking to her with canned topics felt like wearing a mask or cheating, and asks if he should continue improving his skills.

Fuuka explains that when it’s easy to talk to him, she can picture the things he says clearly, directly, and honestly in her head, like she’s reading a novel. When it’s harder to talk to him (or most other people), the images lose focus. It’s no secret that she treasures books immensely, so for him to be able to have that same ability to project imagery into her head is surely a big part of his appeal!

But it’s more than that: when they first started talking, the images were in black-and-white; a “sad and lonely world”, but which made her think they saw the world the same way. She loves novels because the images they send have always looked more beautiful and colorful than the real world as she sees it. But more lately, the images Tomozaki has sent have been full of color too.

Fuuka is glad he’s working hard to change himself, and believes that if there’s someone in his world—a “magician” that gave it those colors—than he should “treasure” that person. After all, those colors have begun to convince her that she too can still change how she sees the world.

Fuuka’s sincere and heartfelt words inspire Tomozaki to make up with the “magician” who gave his world and words color, while not conceding to her own black-and-white view of it. Just getting her to agree to talk again is a little mini-battle in and of itself, but Tomozaki is victorious and gains an audience with her, partly because he’s persistent, and partly because part of her probably wants to make up too.

After meeting, he takes her to the very storefront from where she first revealed to him that she was NO NAME and they began their elaborate master-and-apprentice dance. There, he tells her why he loves Tackfam: the way he could put aside his own weakness, pitifulness, and self-hatred and pour his soul into the game, giving it color.

Hinami helped show him ways to control the game of life so it began to shine with color too. He wants to be a controller in that game, not just the controlled. Hinami shuts him down, dismissing his “this is what I really want” talk as being “drunk on idealism” and “wallowing in sentimentality.” But…but…if he’s saying his “true desires” actually exist beyond those hollow constructs, she’ll need him to provide proof.

In a lovely inversion of their early discussion in which she explained to him the value of the game of life, Tomozaki tells her the proof consists of “many simple rules in combination, intersecting in complex ways that make them harder to grasp”. She won’t find her true desires simply by asking for proof they even exist, but by struggling to discover how she feels and making steady, honest progress.

As someone who believes true desires don’t exist, Tomozaki says she’s only been going through the motions from a player’s POV; without experiencing true, genuine fun. She may be better at playing the game of life, but he’s certain he’s got her beat when it comes to enjoying it. So just as she resolved to help him learn how to play it, he’s going to show her how to enjoy it more than she does now—and in doing so, find what it is she really wants.

Hinami won’t go on this journey with him until he’s given her something to make her rethink her belief that true desires don’t exist, and he has one: She still hasn’t managed to beat him at Tackfam…not once. That’s not due to lack of effort. It’s because his true desires have always fueled his gaming. He knows what he really wants, and she doesn’t.

In the world of Tackfam where they’re both hardcore gamers, he’s Japan’s Top Player nanashi and she’s NO NAME and winless against him. She can’t complain about his “false logic” until she can beat him first, and Tomozaki is confident that if and when she does beat him, she’ll already understand what he’s on about.

Hinami admits she’s impressed by his thoughtful argument, couched though it may be in irrationality. As such, she decides to meet him halfway: not accepting that “true desires or whatever” exist, but can’t say they definitively don’t exist either. If he wants to convince her to come down from that fence, he’s welcome to try. In the meantime, Tomozaki wishes to continue trying to conquer the game of life with her guidance.

She can keep setting goals and he’ll keep working towards them, but from now on he’ll choose which ones conflict with what he really wants. He can’t deny her skills have worked; not when they brought color his life, and by extension, Fuuka’s. But he’ll adopt a hybrid playing style going forward: balancing her goals with his desires. While celebrating their making up by ordering the same salted mackerel dinner, Hinami assigns Tomozaki his next goal: acquiring a part-time job.

Hinami ends up setting him up with a job at the same karaoke parlor where Mizusawa works, where she knows he’ll have an ally to help ease him into the sub-game of Employment. Tomozaki continues to hang out with his new circle of normies, helping (or rather not helping) Yuzu pick out an outfit for her new first date with Nakamura. He gives her sister a strap Mimimi likes, which of course his sister loves because Mimimi does. He and Mizusawa serve their friends while they’re at the parlor singing the show’s theme song.

He also keeps dating Fuuka, who is working on a new novel and excited for Tomozaki to read it and even more excited to hear his thoughts about it, since they’ll surely shine with dazzling color. And he keeps having his debriefing sessions with Hinami, only now thanks to his job it makes sense how he can afford to eat out so much!

The episode, and the series, ends with nanashi beating NO NAME yet again, Hinami stewing with frustration and immediately demanding another match, and Tomozaki gladly agreeing. This, to me, is the perfect set-up for a second season in which Tomozaki and Hinami will be both student and teacher to each other.

While a 2-episode OVA will ship with the Blu-ray, no second season has been announced. But I for one would love to return to the vibrant, complex characters, smart, precise dialogue, and adorable dates of Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki, an unexpected breath of fresh air in a sea of high school rom-coms.

Wonder Egg Priority – 06 – Omelette Rice

Now that each girl and the group as a whole have had their spotlight episodes, it’s time to return to Ohto Ai’s story. While she’s exhausted and sore from her last battle, Ai’s mom insists she get out of bed for breakfast. Her mom also made her omelette rice for lunch and they’ll be having sukiyaki for supper. Ai notes that they usually only have sukiyaki on special occasions. Then her mom asks if she’ll have a “proper talk” with Mr. Sawaki today.

When Ai joins the others, it’s clear she’s in a mood. First of all, she’s skipping emphatically, then starts kicking a traffic cone around and then a sandwich board that she accidentally shatters. The other three are understandably curious what caused this change in her. The four visit the Accas, who inform them of a new threat: Haters, who disguise themselves as Seeno Evils but are far more powerful.

Haters are the result of the four girls “standing out” by their protecting the egg girls. “Those who stand out pay for it”, Acca says, reminding me of how conformity was also the best defense in Ikuhara’s Yuri Kuma Arashi. They present the girls with a different kind of defense: cute pendants that awaken when spoken to in Latin and imprint upon their owners.

Each girl finds somewhere private to awaken their “Pomanders”. Neiru’s is a snake, Rika’s a turtle, Momo’s is an alligator, and Ai’s is a chameleon. While envy and spite birth the Haters that attack Ai and her latest egg girl, those same qualities are like “bread and butter” to her Pomander, who proceeds to gobble one up. As a big fan of beast-taming in FFXIII-2, I like the extra boost they provide to Ai as the difficulty level increases.

In life, Yoshida Yae could see dead people and “strong grudges” no one else could. Because only she could, no one believed her, and she was eventually committed. The facility was full of the very thing only Yae could see, which do doubt led to her suicide. Ai tries to keep her safe by hiding her, but this time the Wonder Killer itself is invisible.

While it’s a little confusing at first, it becomes apparent that Ai’s defense of Yae and battle against an invisible foe comes after the “special occasion” for which her mom is making sukiyaki: Mr. Sawaki is joining them for dinner…and not to talk about school. While the sukiyaki is a clue, it still feels like an ambush, especially when Ai is still drying her hair from a bath when he basically invades her safe space.

Ai’s mom and Sawaki aren’t done with the surprises, as they announce to her their intention to start dating, if it’s okay with her. YIKES. Look, I get it, her mom is divorced and ready to find love again, and Sawaki seems on the surface to be a kind and decent guy. But your daughter’s teacher, who was a major presence in both her and her only friend’s lives prior to Koito’s sudden suicide?

The cynic, i.e. the Rika in me smells something rotten in the state of Denmark. Just as she supposed Ai’s mom used Ai’s need for counseling as an excuse to make Sawaki’s visits a regular occurance, leading to their growing closer, Rika has even darker concerns based on her own mother’s relationships. In her experience, live-in boyfriends always abuse their girlfriend’s kids—violently if it’s a son, sexually if it’s a daughter.

When Ai tells the other girls about this, Momoe is giddily over the moon, as it could mean she and Ai could be family someday. She does not take Rika’s aspersion casting well, and not just because Rika makes a distinction between how a boy or girl would be abused. Momo trusts her uncle, and believes Rika is letting her perspective curdle Ai’s. For him to use Ai’s mom as a decoy to get to Ai…she just can’t believe he’d be that way.

And yet…sometimes it’s the closest friends and family members who have a blind spot where their loved one is concerned—just ask anyone who was close to someone who has been #MeToo’d in the last few years. “[What they are alleged to have done] isn’t them” is a common refrain. The bottom line is, Ai seems most troubled by the fact she still doesn’t know what caused Koito’s suicide, and as long as the mystery remains unresolved, Ai will understandably feel uneasy.

And then there’s Neiru’s input, which is to draw in so close to Ai she can’t hide her face. She brings up Occam’s Razor—the simplest theory is the best—and wonders if the bottom line is that Ai likes Mr. Sawaki. From where they each stand, Momoe, Rika, and Neiru all have valid reasons for how they feel about Ai’s predicament. There simply isn’t enough information for anyone to be proven right or wrong.

All that is certain is that the uncertainty is extremely frustrating for Ai, so much so that after getting beaten by Yae’s invisible Wonder Killer, and Yae tosses her prayer beads that enable Ai to see it, Ai wastes no time taking out those frustrations on the Killer, kicking and smashing it into oblivion.

Before Yae also vanishes, she gets to experience the release and relief of having Ai embrace her and tell her in no uncertain terms that she believes her. For Yae, Ai was the only one. Upon returning home, she decides to name her new chameleon buddy Leon. It’s a bit obvious, but it feels right.

The next day, it pours. Ai’s mom comes home while she’s still in the bad, and scolds her for leaving her dirty clothes out. When she says she’ll turn out the pockets before putting them through the wash, Ai bursts out of the bath without drying off, dresses herself, and runs out the door into the torrential rain. When her mom asks where she’s going, she defiantly yells “SCHOOL!”

Ai keeps running, and by the time she reaches her school, the rain has let up and the sky has become clear and beautiful. She spots Mr. Sawaki as two other schoolgirls are saying goodbye to him. She runs up to him takes hold of his arm, and catches her breath. It looks for all the world like she’s about to confess her love, but she doesn’t. Instead, she brightly declares that she’s going to start going to school again, purposefully brushing the hair out of her face to reveal her blue eye.

Ai doesn’t give Sawaki an answer about whether its okay for him to date her mom. She also doesn’t have any satisfying answers about Koito; at least not yet. Depsite all that, she’s emerged from her cocoon after a lengthy hibernation, and to give ordinary school life another go. Not for Koito, not for her mom, and not for Mr. Sawaki…but for herself.

Perhaps she was “egged on” (I’m so sorry) by her mom and Mr. Sawaki’s announcement, but defending all the egg girls and hearing their stories, as well as those of her fellow egg defenders, and even Leon helped her put her own situation into relief.

Avoiding school hasn’t brought her all the answers she’s sought since losing Koito. Maybe by returning to school they’ll reveal themselves…or maybe not! Either way, she’s moving forward with her her life. I just hope she didn’t catch a cold running forward through all that rain!

Fruits Basket – 37 (S2 12) – One Fine Day

And now, we take a short break from Tooru’s mission to break the Souma curse to check in on Shiraki Mayuko AKA “Mayu”, a teacher at Tooru’s school who is also best friends with Kana. You’ll remember Kana as the woman who dated Hatori, provoking Akito to injure him. Kana went mad, Hatori had to erase all her memories of ever loving him, and Kana married someone else.

Throughout all of that, Mayu was in madly love with her best friend’s boyfriend Hatori. She could never get rid of those feelings—even to this day. She tried to date Shigure when he sensed she was lonely, but that only made Mayu feel more lonely, since she didn’t really feel anything for him. He was a placeholder and happy to be such.

It never occurred to Mayu that she’d ever get a legitimate, consequences-free shot at Hatori, and yet that’s exactly what happened when Kana’s memories were wiped. Heck, when Kana recovers from her mental breakdown, she laughs at the prospect of dating Hatori, and thinks Mayu is an ideal match for him. But Mayu never made a move. Even if it was fine with Kana and Shigure and even Hatori, it never felt right for her.

That brings us to the present, and Shigure has a scheme afoot. First he stops by to ask about a book he ordered from Mayu’s family’s bookstore, but it won’t be there until tomorrow. Then Hatori himself comes, clad in a stuffy suit, having been told by Shigure the book (which was for him) would be there. The next day he comes back, this time without the suit (so Mayu wouldn’t “sweat” while looking at him). When Mayu’s mom starts to sparkle, she grabs him and heads for a more private spot.

When Mayu remarks Hatori doesn’t “exude happiness” the way he did when he was with Kana, he laments that happiness might just not be for him. That causes over two years of Mayu’s pent-up frustration to suddenly burst out in a torrent of bawling. It reminds Hatori of a boy at the Souma estate also crying, and the doctor in him realizes the health benefits of a good cathartic cry, such that he thinks he could use one himself!

With that, the other shoe of Shigure’s scheme drops when Hatori tells Mayu that he actually has no current girlfriend (the woman Shigure mentioned was Hiro’s mom). He then causally asks her out to lunch, his smile returning at the realization of what a fine day it is. It’s the first step in both of them finding new happiness, as Kana already has.

Just as the first episode of Furuba’s second season started with the focus on a tertiary character in Motoko, its twelfth episode does the same. While I can’t say going in I was itching for a Shiraki Mayuko episode, like Motoko’s episode this was still a strong outing in its own right and a welcome follow-up to the first season’s episode 15. Now hopefully Mayu can stay far, far away from Akito…

P.S. Read Crow’s review of episode 12 here.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 12 (Fin) – Life Goes On

Rou is his usual puerile self upon discovering Shinako with Rikuo (though you can’t really blame him!) and runs off in a tizzy, Shinako chases him down and tries to explain. She valued their relationship and was afraid of ruining it.

To his credit, Rou takes the high road, telling Shinako all that mattered was her happiness, and he was a “chump” for not noticing her feelings for Rikuo. Despite telling her “it will take time” for him to comes to terms with it but that he gets it now, Shinako assumes she’s just ruined everything with Rou forever.

The next time Shinako and Rikuo meet, its at a park bench, and as they analyze what they are to each other and how things went with Rou and Haru, the meeting gradually morphs into a more-or-less mutual breakup.

It’s only natural; things haven’t quite felt right because Rikuo hasn’t been able to properly tell her he loves her, but when he asks her simply “me or Rou”, she can’t help but summon much more emotion for Rou, who is family.

Rikuo owns up to becoming terrified of the happiness that suddenly rained down upon him when he found himself in a relationship with Shinako, but perhaps the reason it never felt 100% real for him is that…it wasn’t. He and Shinako had a natural distance from their long friendship that could not be closed, no matter what either party tried.

At the same time, Rikuo assures Shinako that Rou, who is still mostly a kid after all, will eventually come back around to talking with her. He just needs time to cool off, and as we saw, he already exhibited the self-consciousness to admit the mistakes he made. The two cordially shake hands, committing to maintaining what they know works: their friendship, and just like that, Shinako x Rikuo is dead.

Despite this breakup occurring in the last episode, there’s nothing rushed about it. After all, these three had been milling around for three months without the slightest romantic progression, which all confirmed that they’re not meant to be in that kind of relationship, however logical it might’ve seemed.

Meanwhile, Haru notes how little has actually changed in the world since what she felt was a categorical rejection by Rikuo, but still can’t help but wear a gloomy face as she fries vegetables, much to her mom’s dismay. It turns out she’s only taken some time off from Kyouko’s cafe and moved back in with her mom and stepdad. She spends the time away contemplating what love and happiness are to her, not

Rikuo ends up securing Haru’s address and bus route from Kyouko, and sets off to meet with and talk with her about what’s happened, if she’ll have her. During his long journey we get all of his naysaying inner thoughts in real time, negative and dismissive sentiments he must force his way through in order to take action.

He doesn’t like how things ended with Haru, and despite not knowing how she’ll react to seeing him again (or even if she’ll agree to do so), he’ll never forgive himself for not making he attempt, even if it makes him look selfish and foolish.

When he finally crosses paths with her (kudos to Kansuke for keeping her off the bus he just got off!) she’d been remembering when she met him and fell for him in middle school, assumes he’s just another vision, and proceeds to punch him. But when she realizes he’s real, she regrets the assault…but not too much.

All of Rikuo’s inner dialogue was a fight with himself over whether he should even be attempting to reconnect with Haru, which means when Haru is finally there in front of him, he has almost no plan for how to describe his feelings. He initially comes off as having only come to her because Shinako dumped him, but when he elaborates on the details Haru can sense it was more nuanced than that.

Rikuo comes out and says what we all know: he likes it when a woman is nice to him, and for a long time, he thought that was love…until he took the next step with Shinako and it didn’t work out. Then an “incomprehensible, bothersome chick” came along, and Rikuo didn’t realize until recently that love was staring at him all along from the opposite end of the konbini counter.

He thinks everything he thought about love and feelings up to now had been mistaken, but he knows one thing for sure: he thought Haru was cute, and that all of the time she was suddenly away from him, and all hemming and hawing on his way to seeing her, mean that he’s in love with her. It’s something he can come out and relatively easily say to her, while he could never say it about Shinako.

Seeing the shock, embarrassment, joy, and relief wash over Haru’s face is a season standout, as is her instinct to immediately embrace Rikuo and give him a kiss before he knows what hit him. Then she allots only 35 points to his confession and orders him to give another one. After three futile months and so much overthinking, I was astounded and delighted by how comparatively easily the distance between these two was closed!

A little time passes, and Rikuo and Haru prepare to go on their first official date together. Haru, always one to wear her heart on her sleeve, is clearly on cloud nine as she glides around the cafe where she returned to work. Meanwhile as Rou’s classmates celebrate him moving in to his own place, Shinako pays him a surprise visit.

This isn’t exactly how I thought things would end up between these four, but I can’t say I’m not satisfied. The events of this last episode, in hindsight, didn’t even feel at all like sudden twists, but a logical, necessary, and welcome corrective to the awkward confusion of previous alignments. It made me immediately giddy and excited for a Haru x Rikuo future. Not a bad trick for a show based on a 23-year-old manga!

For those asking “Wait, weren’t there going to be eighteen episodes, not just twelve?” Alas, that was an unfortunate miscommunication. Turns out the final six episodes are streaming-only shorts, so this is the final episode, with an anime-original ending. That’s obviously extremely disappointing as I was watching this show unfold as if it had six more eps to work with, but oh well…at least it ended on an upbeat note!

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 11 – Driving With the Parking Brake On

Haru was calling because her house was broken into, but she’s fine and nothing was taken. Still, she asks Rikuo if he’s really the kind of man who would leave a young woman in her state all alone and go home. Rikuo isn’t that kind of man, so he sleeps on the floor, ignoring her offer to stay in her room.

Nothing happens in the night, but Haru makes Rikuo a modest but hearty breakfast as thanks, blissfully unaware his current status with Shinako because Rikuo never comes around to telling her. Even if the timing stinks, he’ll never get a better opportunity to let her down relatively easy.

Rikuo and Shinako are a picture of domestic bliss as he accompanies her grocery shopping and she cooks at both their places. Rikuo calls her cooking “leagues apart” (from Haru’s), though Shinako wonders if he’s making fun of her, since to her it’s just self-taught cooking; nothing special. But it is special to him, just as cooking for him is special to her.

Still, when Rou calls on her phone, she tells Rou there’s no one else there. Like Rikuo with Haru, the timing for telling Rou about them sucks, because she doesn’t want the impact of knowing to affect his college entrance exams. But like Rikuo, she’ll never have a better opportunity to tell Rou, despite logic suggesting she keep them a secret for a little while longer.

But I don’t think mere fear of hurting Haru and Rou is what drives their inability to make their new relationship public. That they’re the only two who know about each other means it’s not yet official, or even 100% real yet. While they’ve shown tremendous courage in taking the first steps toward each other, it’s as if they still have the parking brake on, slowing their progress and its legitimization to an awkward crawl.

It’s why Shinako still can’t let Rikuo kiss her when he draws in. He doesn’t mind, but in drawing in he’s already established that he’s ready for a kiss; that he sought to release that E-brake and drive a little further down the road, while Shinako’s brake is still on. It doesn’t, nor should it, irritate Rikuo, who is just happy to be with her, but he automatically starts to think of what he still needs to do to get her to release that brake.

Whatever issues the two are having in transitioning into a more romantic relationship, the fact remains they’ve both procrastinated too long in letting the other man and woman in their lives know what’s up. Because Rikuo didn’t tell Haru that morning to spare her feelings, Haru ends up learning about the two when she stops by Rikuo’s with food from the cafe as thanks for him spending the night at her place.

The looks on Haru’s face as she repeatedly tries and fails to cover her true feelings with a brave smile over and over makes for the most heartbreaking sequences of the show so far. Any notion of sparing her feelings is thrown out the window. Haru knew this moment would come, but she didn’t truly know how it would feel until it did. Rikuo didn’t make things any easier for her, so he and Shinako also feel shitty.

Rou ends up passing his entrance exams, and is officially heading for college, which means it’s time to tell him lest he face the same moment of embarrassment and despair as poor Haru (not that I particularly care about Rou, mind you!) But when Rou tells Shinako he’ll be moving closer to her place and she gently bristles at him presuming she’ll keep cooking for him, Rou’s reaction is so callow and impudent, she dare not say more to upset him further. Yikes! Later, Shinako tells Rikuo that she’ll surely, definitely tell Rou about them soon, when the time is right. MmHmm.

Then she has drinks with her still-single friend, who learns that Shinako may be going with her guy, but that nothing has happened in that department for three months. THREE. MONTHS. There’s taking it slow, and there’s frikkin’ pitch drop experiments. Her friend is understanding, but wisely wonders if Shinako will ever feel comfortable doing “anything” with Rikuo.

Some time passes, and Rikuo learns from Kyouko that Haru has quit her job at the cafe. That night, Rikuo takes Shinako out to dinner as thanks for all his cooking (per his boss’ suggestion), and invites her to the aquarium. Unfortunately, Shinako already agreed to help Rou move, and once again assures Rikuo she’ll tell Rou about them.

When he walks Shinako home, she ask him if he wants to “stop by”, and he politely declines, he detects relief in her voice. He’s not feeling restless or anything, but she should let him know if there’s any way he can better meet her expectations. Shinako tells him he’s fine the way he is, and she won’t expect more or as him to make any promises. As long as he stays by her side and be who he’s always been, it’s all gravy.

Then Rou shows up, sees Shinako clutching Rikuo’s shirt, is outraged, and asks what the hell is going on between them. There was never going to be a good time to tell Rou or Haru, but the absolute worst time could have been avoided in both cases. Another unforced error for the fledgling couple. I’m thoroughly rooting for them at this point, but they have got to do better.

Oresuki – 12 – The Problem is Ongoing

A week after involving Hose, Cherry, and Tsukimi, the library has been saved. But while the more bustling atmosphere doesn’t bother Pansy, continuing to deal with Hose does. Joro hasn’t figured out a way to help her in this matter, so reaches out to Tampopo.

He’s learned through Asunaro that she’s in love with Hose, and thus worked hard to get Pansy a boyfriend so she’d be off the board. She’s too busy with baseball to visit the library after school, so advises Joro to ask Pansy out immediately.

Joro still isn’t emotionally equipped to do that, and so the problem lingers and becomes more complicated. We learn that Sun-chan’s exchange with Pansy last week was to ask her to be his girlfriend if his team made it to Koushien. In the library, when Joro asks to talk to Pansy she tells him she’s accepted Sun’s offer, to the shock of both Hose and Joro. She also tells Joro to stay away from her…”for a while.”

When Joro meets with Sun-chan, his best friend confirms what Pansy said, adding that he’s been a good best friend thus far, and now it’s Joro’s turn to return the favor and “do what he’s supposed to do.” Tsubaki overhears this and grasps the situation, but Joro is still lost in the weeds.

He stays away from the library, working at Tsubaki’s family’s restaurant, he still gets to interact with her, Himawari, Cosmos, Asunaro, and yes, even Sasanqua (who works up yet more courage to offer support to him, but just can’t quite help herself from going Full Tsundere whilst around him).

Joro rightly considers this to still be a pretty sweet deal, and resigns himself to a Pansy-less life. The thing is, Joro read Pansy wrong in this case, and the ever-reliable Tsubaki is there to set him straight. Pansy may have called him a useless nuisance, but she said that and agreed to Sun’s offer to protect him from getting caught up in her problem.

It’s Joro’s choice whether to get caught up, and the “for a while” (rather than “forever”) was a small SOS to invite Joro to choose to help her despite the trouble. And he does just that, strolling into the library as the arrogant jerk Pansy fell in love with in the first place, just as Hose asks her out in the even Sun’s team doesn’t make the cut.

As expected, the unflincingly loyal Cherry and Tsukimi run interference for Hose, but Joro powers through, and Pansy lets him speak. Joro devises a challenge to Hose, giving each girl one of the excess barrettes Tampopo acquired while trying to win his heart. The barrettes represent votes: the girls should give the barrette to the guy they think should be with Pansy.

Predictably, this backfires for Joro, and he’s the only one who didn’t see it coming. Cosmos, Himawari, and Asunaro give their barrettes to Hose, not Joro, and take the opportunity to profess their love for Joro. Since he gave them the choice, none of them are willing to be runner-up. Cherry and Tsukimi actually inspired them to strive for love and friendship.

Hose also rescinds his friendship with Joro, as he cannot be friends with anyone who would keep him from Pansy. That’s kind of false equivalence, however, as it’s Pansy who doesn’t want to be with Hose, and has made it pretty clear! If Pansy and Joro love each other and want to be a couple the two of them need to break some hearts, full stop.

Hose, Cosmos, Himawari, and Asunaro need to be rejected in no uncertain terms. Sadly, so does Sasanqua, while Joro and Pansy need to clearly define their relationship going forward as one of a boyfriend and girlfriend. There can be no more half-measures creating hope for the others.

Will they take those difficult steps in the series-concluding OVA? One can hope. Joro wants to “leave all rom-coms in the dust.” One surefire way for Oresuki to stand out from a crowd is to have an unambiguous final couple.

Asagao to Kase-san. (OVA) – The Sun is Always Shining Above the Clouds

Asagaro to Kase-san, an OVA released in the Summer of 2018, is a concise but solid piece of serious yuri storytelling in the vein of Aoi Hana, Sasameki Koto, and Sakura TrickIt strikes that delicate balance of covering a fair amount of material while never feeling like it’s trying to do too much. The stakes never stray from the future of a couple of young lovers who start dating in their final year of high school.

That they’re both girls, living in relatively conservative Japan, never comes up, because this isn’t about whether they can be together or not. It’s about their mutual love, plain and simple, and how they weather other challenges to remain together, a state neither of them at any point wish to leave.

Mild-mannered gardening fanatic Yamada Yui had never dated anyone before she and the athletic track star Kase Tomoka got together, but they’re together before the opening credits, which is a heck of a timesaver! Suffice it to say they liked each other to the extent they were equally enthusiastic about becoming a couple.

That mutual enthusiasm paid dividends, as before long the like turned to love. There’s never any doubt that Kase is as smitten with Yamada as vice-versa, even if the latter tends to feel inferior due to Kase’s social and literal stature at school. There are also times when she allows Kase to swept up by others, often interrupting potential time alone.

But while Yamada comes to realize she’ll have to be more assertive at times, the fact that Kase is so popular isn’t a problem for her; it serves to validate why she loves her so much in the first place: Kase’s a surpassingly kind and gregarious young woman.

In any case, in moments when Yamada might feel lonely due to indulging Kase’s natural gregariousness, Kase’s own desire to be alone with Yamada means it’s never that long before she seeks Yamada out, both grateful for her patience and relieved to have in her a kind of haven.

Time with Yamada is special to Kase; more special than time with anyone else. That’s whether they’re on an intimate nighttime phone call, alone together in Yamada’s room raising the temperature a bit, or on a beach in Okinawa making up and out after Yamada gets a bit too “surprised” seeing Kase nude.

The biggest threat to their relationship isn’t the fact that they’re both girls, which is refreshing. Instead, like any other relationship, it’s the unrelenting march of time and the changes it brings. Kase is on the fast track to Tokyo U on an athletic scholarship; Yamada’s inertia seems to be keeping her tethered to her hometown, commuting to the local college from home.

Especially when Kase calls to offer to turn down the scholarship and she essentially tells her not to, Yamada is on the cusp of relegating their relationship to a long-distance affair, with visits very few and far between. It’s only on the very day Kase leaves for Tokyo that Yamada wakes up and realizes she doesn’t want that at all. She wants as much Kase as she can get, and so she runs and keeps running until she’s in Kase’s arms aboard the Shinkansen.

How will Yamada manage to get into a Tokyo school? Ehh, she’ll figure it out! The most important thing is that they’re together, like they want to be. They’re also on the same wavelength; Kase really didn’t want to leave Yamada, but felt trapped by the circumstance of her athletic excellence. Fortunately for her, Yamada wasn’t going to let something like that cause what they had to fall apart.

Backed by gorgeous animation and superb voice work from Sakura Ayane and Takahashi Minami, Asagao to Kase-san delivers an elegant and captivating romance between two girls for whom simply no one else would do, and whose bond managed to withstand the winds of change. Give it a watch and your heart will grow at least three sizes!

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 10 – Please Don’t Literally Crush Your Skull!

It’s Wintertime, the Silverman Gym Christmas Party is coming up, and Hibiki, Akemi, Ayaka, Satomi and Gina want to use the even to snag some guys Hibiki isn’t quite in the shape she wants to be due to overindulgence in delicious winter foods.

Machio suggests she try lying triceps extensions, or “skull crushers,” and Hibiki makes what must be a common mistake with any workout that brings a metal bar that close to your head. Still, by cramming in workouts prior to the party, Hibiki hopes to be the first among them to bag a boyfriend.

The big night arrives, and the young women arrive in cosplay in order to apply for a free training session. They fan out and mingle with all the handsome, fit young men who attend the gym at different times, but quite adorably none of them are quite bold enough to ask for any numbers.

Speaking of numbers, Machio drew them all over his muscles as a novel way to reveal the winners of the gym raffle, the first place prize for which is a pair of tickets to an amusement park, which Satomi wins. While posing with the other winners, she and the girls learn that beneath their slimming casual clothes, the lads are all macho-men like Machio.

That also means most of them are spoken for, so it would seem their mission to snag a boyfriend failed. When Satomi can’t use the tix due to Winter Comiket approaching, Akemi asks if she can have them…and asks Machio to join her! The ladies are shocked.

When Akemi and Machio meet up at the very not-Disney-affiliated-at-all “Tochigi Destiny Land”, Hibiki and Gina decide to trail the pair, while Satomi ends up coming along, wearing the same winter uniform as the high schoolers in order to hide in plain sight.

Part of me wished the tix were for Amagi Brilliant Park, but then I would not have met TDL’s mascot, Mockey, whose appearance Satomi’s inner thoughts sum up quite succinctly.

While observing Akemi and Machio reveals that they’re simply on a normal innocent date, things take a turn when the two suddenly sneak into a suspicious tend. However, the true reason for them coming to TDL is revealed: they’re there for a cosplay event.

Specifically, Akemi is there to see Machio’s sweet, sweet pecs (honed by the incline bench press), which, as she explains while temporarily transforming into Sawako, look even better when juxtaposed with leather armor. Finally, Satomi is skipping about in a high school uni without a care in the world until she runs into someone she knows, specifically her fellow teacher Aina, who is also wearing their school’s uni. They vow to pretend this never happened, but I remember, senseis…and I won’t soon forget!

BokuBen – 07 – Storming of the Bastille

Rizu doesn’t know that Uruka likes Nariyuki, and Uruka doesn’t know that Ri likes Nariyuki, but Fumino knows both of those things, and she doesn’t want to rock the boat. However, fate seems to conspire against her, as she trips over her own feet and lands upon Nariyuki in an apparent passionate embrace that Ri happens to witness.

Fumino, convinced Rizu is furious, tries to make it right, ultimately by shoving Nariyuki into Rizu’s embrace; but his head ends up in Ri’s bust—no doubt due to poor calculations on the part of Fumino, for whom math is not her strong suit, as we know. Turns out Rizu only appeared angry because she was squinting due to using a backup pair of glasses.

From there we shift to Nariyuki’s increasingly complex relationship with Kirisu-sensei. When he attempts to rescue a cat from a tree, it ends up jumping off, and Kirisu twists her ankle catching it. Nariyuki helps her get to her apartment, which is an appalling mess.

But since Kirisu is actually a good person (which is why she saved the cat), she makes coffee for Nariyuki and helps him study some history as thanks for his assistance.

While helping her clean, Nariyuki stumbles upon a trophy case packed with accolades from when Kirisu was an ice skater, proving that her desire to steer the girls away from their “emotional” choice of life path is borne out of her having made the same choice when she was younger, and coming to regret it.

Nariyuki tells her that while he appreciates where she’s coming from, he’s decided he’s going to “hold his head high” and “regret it later” with them. It’s only a meaningless, foolish path if they fail, and he can’t yet say that they will.

With that, he takes his leave. When he asks if it’s really okay for a man to have come to her place, she dismisses him as still a child, but once he’s gone, she drops the pretense and reveals she was a nervous wreck, because he was actually the first man ever to be at her place.

One one of their now regular one-on-one chats, Nariyuki tells Fumino about being at Kurisu-sensei’s last night. Knowing it could enrage Rizu and/or Uruka, she drags him to a tree, pushes him against it, and makes him promise not to tell anyone what he just told her.

Naturally, the next time she’s in class, she’s hounded by classmates convinced that she’s in some kind of “special relationship” with Nariyuki, something Nariyuki himself doesn’t deny (since he considers both his tutoring of her and her coaching of him in matters of women to be “special”).

Fumino’s classmates are extremely protective of her, and aren’t about to let just any schmo go out with her, so they send a covert surveillance team to the library where the two are studying, and determine that there’s no overt romantic spark between them, but that they share a “deep trust that transcends the boyfriend-girlfriend barrier.”

Or was she? Fumino may be committed to not making either Rizu or Uruka sad (or mad), but she can’t deny she’s enjoyed all the time she’s spent with Nariyuki, and not just in a tutor-tutee scenario. He’s supporting her wish to pursue her dreams, after all!

When she finally informs Nariyuki of the rumors going around about the two of them, she “jokes” that maybe they should just go out for real. Only judging from Nariyuki’s reaction—and her reaction to his reaction—it sure doesn’t feel like it was a joke. As much as she wants to be above the love polygon, this episode leaves little doubt that she’s one of the vertices.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 06 – Quantum Entanglement-by-Butt-Kickin’

On the eve of finals, Mai decides she’s used enough of the stick and whips out a carrot in the form of her bunny girl suit, which she wears while tutoring Sakuta. Why the change of pace? She witnessed him stand up for Tomoe at the station, and thinks better of him for working so hard even for a fake girlfriend. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is that Mai isn’t the slightest bit threatened by Tomoe.

The finals come and go, as does the last day of school and the start of summer break: July 18. Sakuta and Tomoe have been dating three weeks now, but Tomoe assures him she has an ironclad plan for the breakup. After a fun final date at the beach, she shakes his hand and thanks him for his help. She’ll simply tell her friends she dumped him when she realized he only had feelings for Mai—something that happens to be true.

But I knew, after that “final” date, there was no way July 19 would come. Instead, July 18 resets, as I predicted. What I didn’t expect was that Tomoe isn’t aware of the reset…or at least says she isn’t. They go on their beach date a second, then a third time.

Sakuta starts to suspect Tomoe may be lying about not knowing about the looping. It’s confirmed when she turns around and smiles at him during the principal’s address; something she hadn’t done in previous iterations. Not only does Sakuta know for sure that she’s lying, but he knows why.

On the fourth July 18 Sakuta throws Tomoe for a loop (for a change), taking her to Enoshima, the place they were originally going to go on their first date, but he’s making it their last. They climb the prodigious stairs to the shrine, and he fills out a votive tablet for good relationships. Tomoe thinks it sinful, since their relationship isn’t real, but he tells her that when they both agreed to do this, they agreed to to it all the way, even to hell.

Moreover, it isn’t sinful for Tomoe, since she’s actually in love with Sakuta. She plays dumb, but once they’re alone on the observation deck, he finally gets her to admit that she’s aware of what she’s doing, and why. Sakuta tells her flat out that whether she repeats time a hundred or a hundred million times, his feelings for Mai won’t change.

Tomoe counters that her feelings have changed. At first, she only meant for the fake relationship to help her save face. But every time she loops, her feelings for Sakuta only keep building up. A stirring monologue ensues, with Touyama Nao effortlessly bringing the feels. Finally, Tomoe does what needs to be done to move on: to stop lying to herself confess her love, clearly and loudly.

The next time Sakuta wakes up, it’s not July 18, or July 19; it’s June 27 (again). Tomoe sent them all the way back to the day she was asked out by the guy her friend likes. This time, she turns him down properly, resolved to face the social consequences…which don’t turn out to be that bad; her friends don’t end up ostracize her. Better still, she can still be good friends with Sakuta, which was always part of her plan.

As for Sakuta, he gets to redo asking Mai out, and she responds just as he’d hoped, as she steals a kiss to express how she feels about him. The next three weeks proceed as they did the last time, with the two differences being Sakuta knows what’s going to happen (even the exam questions) and he and Tomoe aren’t fake dating. They don’t have to.

It was, after all, nought but a simulation of the future, and yet still just as real as the future to come. In her traditional casual science-y explanation, Futaba surmises that Sakuta was drawn into the looping with Tomoe due to “quantum entanglement”, which happens when two particles collide. In this case, Tomoe and Sakuta kicking each other’s butts. Will this show’s delicious cleverness never cease? I for one hope not.

It certainly wastes no time getting the next arc started, as the episode closes with Sakuta meeting a middle school girl who just happens to share the name of his first crush: Makinohara Shouko.