Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 03 – Heads Up, Tails Down Bad

Kashiwagi P.I.

Kaguya-sama is to my mind never a show that has to scape the bottom of a barrel, because it has a whole cellar full of barrels that are always full. Take the oft-sampled scenario of the romantically inept Student Council having to give advice to the far more experienced Kashiwagi Nagisa. In this case, Nagisa has come suspecting her boyfriend of cheating on her with her friend.

Nagisa proceeds to confess to a number of actual crimes of privacy invasion before making the ludicrous statement of hiring a P.I. because she trusts her man, but every time Miko tries to point out how rashly Nagisa is acting, Kaguya steps in to support Nagisa’s theories. When Miko says going to karaoke with someone is cheating does Kaguya say it isn’t (due to what happened with Miyuki and Hayasaka). Miko is feeling so bad she has to listen to her self-affirmation audio.

Ultimately by talking things through with Kaguya and Miko, Nagisa works up the courage to confront her boyfriend directly. When he reiterates that he likes her and gives her a gold heart necklace, all is forgiven. Miyuki and Yuu believe the guy made a slick move, while Kaguya, Miko and Chika all agree the necklace is lame as hell! Then Nagisa and her bae start making out, and we’re reminded that it’s the student council that’s lame to cast aspersions about gifts when none of them are officially dating.

Lovesick Heart of the Nation

The second segment involves the other side of the love triangle: Nagisa’s old friend Shijou Maki (a dynamic Ichinose Kana). After pretending not to care about Nagisa telling her not to hang out with her BF so much, she walks home slumped over like Charlie Brown (or George Michael Bluth). Yuu and Miyuki are chatting spiritedly when the latter suddenly steps on the prone Maki’s head, accompanied by a sound effect for the ages.

Just as Kaguya and Miko had to counsel (i.e. endure) Nagisa, Miyuki and Yuu are pressed into service as advisors to Maki, who is a particularly haughty member of a Shinomiya branch family, is possessed of incurable tsundere-ness, and can flip the cuteness on and off like a plasma globe. She goes to some dark places but you can tell it helps just to have someone to listen to, even if she deems them (mostly Yuu) an ignoramus.

The two boys agree to help her steal Nagisa’s boyfriend in large part due to this ability to come across as unbelievably cute and sympathetic. Yuu also admires her unvarnished honesty about everything but her love of Nagisa’s bae (finally admitting she does after denying it ten straight times).

After a tense, hostile interaction with her “auntie” Kaguya, Maki says both boys said she was cute, which has Kaguya in Miyuki’s face like stink on shit. But Miyuki can’t very well say he finds Maki cute because she reminds him of Kaguya, not can he?!

Polygraph-Enhanced Fun

In the final segment, Kaguya, still curious about what exactly happened at that group date, asks Chika what goes on at such functions. Chika hasn’t been to one either, but is aware of group date games like one played with 10-yen coins and revealing yes-or-no answers that are kept anonymous by a handkerchief.

Like most seemingly innocuous little games Chika suggests the council plays, this one becomes a battle of wits between everyone to get the others to admit to something they wouldn’t normally admit to. Chika naturally wants to know who is currently in love (three of the five of them…but who’s the third?).

Yuu wants to know who hates him (only one…but it might not be Miko?) Miko wants to know that she’s necessary and wanted (five yesses…even from Yuu). When Kaguya notices that you can tell whose answers are whose by the mint date of the coins, she tries to trap Miyuki into a confession, with the added protection of Chika insisting on a polygraph if any lying is suspected.

Of course, she’s giving Miyuki too little credit not assuming he’d have a defense—in this case a second coin in his pocket that has the same mint date as two others. Unfortunately, his counterattack, to reveal Kaguya has been using the mint numbers to get a leg up, fails when two others admit to doing the same.

When Miyuki and Kaguya are alone in the more dramatically-lit office after school (one of my favorite kinds of Kaguya-sama scenes), Miyuki asks Kaguya if she had group dates on her mind because she heard he went on one. He then clears the air by admitting he did, but didn’t do anything frivolous, and says he wants “at least her” to believe her. When he asks if she does, she doesn’t answer verbally, but sneakily leaves her answer—yes—in coin form on the desk.

While this didn’t pack the emotional or dramatic punch of last week’s masterpiece, it was still a strong episode that followed up on the aftermath of that group date while bringing back Nagisa, a model of romantic honesty, and introducing the intriguing, imperious Maki as a kind of “Kaguya-Lite”. It also looks like the Starship Troopers ending wasn’t a one-off…Good!

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 02 – Better to Not Put on an Act

The Ishigami-Iino Accords

Kaguya-sama is about far more than two goofs who won’t admit their love out of pride and fear. It has the ammo to provide a veritable kaleidoscope of spinoff stories about its other characters. Ishigami and Iino Don’t Get Along could not only be a decent series unto itself, but has an incredibly catchy English title!

That Ishi-Iino isn’t a spinoff from the Kaguya-sama: Love Is War Cinematic Universe is a shame, but it’s also the mark of a great series that it keeps you wanting to see more of its greatness. Also, it’s good enough that it doesn’t have to spin things off. Sometimes a small taste is enough.

So we’ve known for a while now that Ishigami and Iino hate each other…but do they? Sure, they seem to inhabit opposite ends of the Discipline-Rebellion Spectrum, but we know better. Ishigami has as strong a sense of justice as Iino, especially where Iino herself is concerned. He just chooses to conceal it behind an outer crust she loathes.

By the same token, Ishigami obviously respects Iino’s honesty and diligence, or he wouldn’t stand to defend her from embarrassment. The thing is, their practiced hostility has escalated to a level neither Miyuki nor Iino’s friend Osaragi can suffer. Hence, the Ishigami-Iino Friendship Plan.

After an exchange of compliments turns into a hatefest, ear-cleaning becomes awkward contortionism, and Pocky-eating leads to aggressively gnashing teeth, Osaragi ditches Miyuki’s plan and pulls out the big guns, telling the two what a good match they are, and how it’s “typical teen behavior” to not be able to stop yourself from being mean to the one you like.

Ishigami and Iino are so shocked by the checkmate they relent on the spot, then devolve into an automated, emotionless, auto-tuned exchange of Iino saying “I like you quite a lot” and Ishigami returning the sentiment. It’s very far from normal human interaction, but by the letter of what the segment victor Osaragi and Miyuki set out to do, it gets the job done.

Play Along, All Right?

Of course, simply getting the job done on paper is not Kaguya-sama’s M.O., as evidenced by the epic two-parter that closes the episode. This might also just be my favorite segment of all the shows two-plus seasons. After declining several times in the past, Miyuki finally accepts an invite from classmates to go out for karaoke and “networking” with kids from other schools, unaware that it’s really going to be a group date.

Hayasaka can’t help but point this out to Kaguya, but Hayasaka ends up being inconvenienced, as Kaguya orders her to attend the group date and make sure no girls get near the President. Hayasaka is so good at getting herself mixed up in Kaguya’s man mess that one frankly can’t rule out that she does it on purpose, for sport or personal achievement.

This scenario marks the return of Hayasaka’s alter-ego “Miss Herthaka”, and when Miyuki recognizes her, she’s grumpy enough with her plight that she decides to take the fact that he dumped her like a bag of sand when last they met and run with it like Marshawn Lynch in Beast Mode.

After making clear to Miyuki’s pals that he dumped her, she takes the stage and belts out a stirring, pitch-perfect rendition of “My Feelings” by Akasaka Saka/Giorgio Giorgio. If there’s such a thing as anime nirvana, it’s this.

What makes this performance so powerful is that it’s not played 100% as a joke. Hayasaka is legitimately frustrated both by her past failure to seduce Miyuki and Kaguya’s continued taking of the President for granted as someone who will always be available to her.

After the song, Hayasaka and Miyuki have a serious discussion about putting on acts. When she rants about her “little sister” forcing her to come to this to get over being dumped, he feels like he’s talking to the something like the “real her” … which of course she is, since she’s voicing real frustrations! Miyuki, always forthright in everything but his love of Kaguya, feels he can relate to her better, and you get the feeling he likes this “Herthaka” more than the obviously fake one from their first encounter.

Hayasaka then reveals her position on the matter, which is that “no one will ever love you unless you’re acting”, and that weakness and ugliness must be hidden by that acting. He then puts it to him whether he’s actually the real Shirogane Miyuki, or if he overreaches and bluffs. He thinks on this and decides it would probably be best to call it a night.

Hurt You Just a Little

When some rando tries to put the moves on Hayasaka the moment she’s alone, Miyuki returns, takes her by the hand, and leads her to safety, telling her to “play along”. She’s so moved by the gesture, she reserves a room just for her and Miyuki, where she plans to succeed in Kaguya’s dare for her to seduce him.

Hayasaka reports this to Kaguya via earpiece, who is in her covert ops outfit on a rooftop. And again, this is all played straight. We have a legit love triangle here! There’s a part of Hayasaka who likes Shirogane and a part of her that wants to win, and when opportunity like this knocks she’s not going to ignore it. What started as a playful dare is no longer just a game. When Hayasaka cuts off communication, Kaguya panics.

She knows that normally Hayasaka operates within the bounds of common sense. But she also knows that Hayasaka was furious for having to go to the group date to begin with, so who knows what she’s capable of. Kaguya finds the door of the booth where they are, but there she’s paralyzed from further action.

The window is covered by Hayasaka’s coat, rendering it a Schrödinger’s Shirogane scenario. Whatever is or isn’t happening in there, Kaguya’s imagining of what it might be is far worse. And she knows she can’t just barge in without “losing”, i.e. revealing she cares so much about Miyuki that she’ll stalk him when he’s hanging out with friends (which, yes, she does, and is!).

Her solution? Invite Chika to karaoke, being sure to give her the number of the booth. But before Chika can arrive to open the box, Kaguya starts hearing suggestive noises and a flurry of double entendres. When Miyuki exits the booth to go to the bathroom, Kaguya slips in and learns the truth: Hayasaka’s strange utterings were reactions to Miyuki’s rapping.

While I saw this coming, it’s still an excellent callback to Chika’s attempts to improve Miyuki’s vocal skills. But I don’t believe rapping lessons were part of her curriculum judging by the state of Hayasaka. When Chika finally arrives and hears Hayasaka describe what she heard, it immediately puts her off karaoke and the three take off, leaving Miyuki all alone.

On the ride home, Hayasaka admits to Kaguya that she had become somewhat jealous of how happy and carefree she’s been of late, and selfishly wanted to take her down a peg, or as she puts it wanted her to “hurt just a little.”

She accomplished that mission admirably thanks to her intimate knowledge of Kaguya, but Kaguya already knew it must’ve been something like that thanks to her intimate knowledge of Hayasaka; specifically, how twisted her personality is. Hayasaka shoots back that Kaguya’s no different than her, and Kaguya doesn’t argue that fact.

While Hayasaka might have started out as Kaguya’s maid and attendant, the fact of the matter is in the ensuing years they’ve grown into something far more like sisters. Siblings love each other, but they can also irritate or hurt each other like no one else. I really loved this sprawling segment’s ability to balance humor and character drama so perfectly.

Mind you, the credits could have rolled during this last exchange between Kaguya and Hayasaka, but that would simply be “getting the job done.” Instead, the end credits roll over an lovingly, amazingly detailed intro for a Starship Troopers anime adaptation, with Miyuki, Kaguya and Hayasaka reflecting that film’s triangle of Rico, Carmen, and Dizzy.

Again, this ED could be a whole show, and it would be incredible. But here it’s just a fun throwaway gag. We live in rare and tremendous times that anime like this is still made.

RWHL

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 01 – Glory in the Granular

Miko Unplugged

“Continue” pressed and the utterly destroyed Shuchiin Academy miraculously reincorporated—an auspicious start to the third season. Our first easing back into the thick of things involves the student council room suddenly turning into a sylvan glade. Yuu can hear Miko’s peaceful study music because her earbuds are ever-so unplugged and she’s unaware.

The peaceful forest soon turns to jackhammers, the growling of camels, and finally positive affirmation from the voices of popular heartthrobs. Basically, Miko is exposing herself as a listener of increasingly embarrassing things, and giving ample ammo to Yuu, whom she’s been clear about not caring about a whit.

Even so, when the other council members enter, Yuu makes a sacrifice, not-quite plugging in his headphones to listen to a particularly frilly and chipper idol theme. He isn’t seeking thanks from Miko, just trying to mitigate the damage by getting her to notice she’s made the same mistake he just made.

However, Miko truly does care about Yuu so little that she ignores his hidden warning, and switches her morally supportive dreamboats right back on for everyone to hear and be thoroughly awkwarded out. As such, the first bout of the season is lost by both Yuu and Miko.

The Curse of Read Receipts

Kaguya is overjoyed to now have access to the President through LINE, but when he sends her two messages in two hours, she doesn’t know how to reply. Her fatal error is believing he isn’t aware she’s read his messages. From his chat screen it’s obvious she read them instantly due to the read receipt feature.

Eventually Miyuki determines that Kaguya isn’t aware of read receipts, and when his third sent message is instantly read, further determines that this is the adequate evidence of her faving feelings for him he’s been looking for. Granted both of them have been staring at their LINE screens for each other’s sakes, but as always this is about who admits love first!

Believing victory to be in grasp, Miyuki calls Kaguya to inform her of the read receipt feature and what it means. At this point, he really has won, but for Kaguya’s aristocratic dirty tricks! She employs Hayasaka, who was herself hesitating on whether to inform her mistress of her tech error, to make up some excuse.

Hayasaka’s hastily-summoned excuse ends up being not only wonderfully plausible but pretty much turns the tables against the cocky Miyuki: his messages are labeled as read immediately because they are…via computer…by the household staff…for security screening purposes. In light of this extended exchange, Chika, Yuu and Miko’s LINE messages to Kaguya go unanswered, and thus those three are the losers in this round.

Muscle Queen Kaguya

When Yuu gives up five feet from the council room dorm carrying a large load, Chika is sufficiently disgusted by his weakness to call for a Student Council Arm Wrestling Tournament. Because this involves holding hands, Miyuki and Kaguya are all for it. Miko is excluded from the bracket by a way-too-into-it Chika, while Kaguya shows off the result of using a hefty 15-kg draw weight on her bow in archery club by destroying Yuu.

Chika initially seems to be a tough out for Miyuki, until Kaguya, jealous and furious of them holding hands, informs the referee (Miko) that Chika is cheating, then explains precisely how she’s cheating in a level of detail reserverd for someone who wants nothing more than to have an innocent excuse to hold the hand of the boy she likes.

The final, then, is Kaguya v. Miyuki, of course, and they too seem equally matched at least to casual observers. However, as our trusty narrator explains, the two are both committed to drawing out the match—by remaining in a state of bliss—as long as possible!

Their delicate balance is only thrown off when Kaguya notices her hand and the Presidents are getting sweaty, and their sweat is starting to mix…so she panics and easily defeats him, in the same way she was able to joint lock him last season then return to her calming pose—with authority.

Thus Kaguya “wins” the third and final bout of the week, but her “prize” is to be awarded the titles “Muscle Queen/Princess” by Chika, resulting in her standing awkwardly atop a mountain of orange muscle men. Then Miyuki tells her that her final forceful thrust at the end was an impressive bit of arm wrestling.

To paraphrase Chika, A society that allows weak anime to go about their business oblivious to their own weakness is in serious need of a reset! Thankfully, Love is War is back, and remains at the top of the anime mountain; a no -cavities, low-sugar, low-carb show that never goes to bed before at least 30 minutes of muscle training.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 03 – Free as a Cloud

Akebi Komichi isn’t trying to stand out, she’s just being the best damn Akebi Komichi she can be. That Akebi is bereft of guile, devoid of ego…and runs fastest while barefoot. So fast, in fact, she posts the best time in P.E., and attracts three upperclassmen who want her to join their sports clubs.

Those upperclassmen burst in on Akebi’s class just before the bell, and have to be set straight by the class president, Tanigawa Kei. When she comes over to thank her, Akebi mentions how beautiful Tanigawa’s legs and skin are. Tanigawa isn’t sure what to make of Akebi quite yet, but she knows one thing: Akebi keeps talking to her.

After Akebi’s other three friends head home, she runs into Tanigawa again, and shares her earbuds with her as they listen to her favorite idol’s music, music Tanigawa is amazed Akebi can dance to. But Akebi doesn’t think anything she does is amazing; just the product of hard work, practice, and love of Fukumoto Miki-chan.

Tanigawa is amazed though, by how easily Akebi can do things she wants to do. It makes her want to come out of her shell a little, if only for Akebi. When they exchange numbers, Tanigawa even considers sending her new friend a selfie of her legs…and torso. She even ends up sending this rather risqué pic, albeit accidentally when her mom startles her. But Akebi is ecstatic to receive it, and believes Tanigawa has a real talent for photos. It’s another lovely new friendship forged.

Due to Akebi’s considerable athletic attributes, a sports club seems like a no-brainer. But after spending the day with Kojou checking out all the clubs,  she’s still not able to pick one.

She and Kojou are caught in the rain, and upon finding shelter, Kojou gives Akebi her warm blazer, which her thin sailor uniform lacks. Akebi finds one of Kojou’s book in a pocket, and decides to read to Kojou like she does to her little sister as they wait out the rain.

Kojou is impressed with Akebi’s ability to bring the characters in the book to life—she even does all the distinct voices like a rakugo performer—but it’s been a long day and she eventually nods off. She wakes up with her head resting in Akebi’s lap, looks up and sees Akebi wearing her glasses, and for a moment thinks it’s her mom.

The next day, Akebi learns Tanigawa has chosen the photography club, while Akebi announces that she’s joined the drama club. It’s a place where she’ll be free to employ all of her acquired talents, while utilizing her innate ability to draw attention and admiration.

Just about every frame of Akebi is a joy to watch, and not just due to the intense love, care, and detail put into the production by Cloverworks. I can’t stop watching because Akebi is such a gregarious, magnetic presence. She really is Cardcaptor Sakura without the card capturing!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 02 – See You Tomorrow

Komichi is an uncomplicated girl with a simple love: to emulate her favorite idol, Fukumoto Miki, by donning a sailor fuku to school. There’s an elemental beauty to that clarity that embues the entire episode. We get to witness the fateful moment she fell for both Miki and the uniform while watching TV with Kao resting on her lap. She’s in such awe of Miki’s cuteness, a snack falls from her hand into Kao’s.

We’re hearing the same story Komichi’s class is hearing in her extended introduction of herself and why she appears to be the class libero (in volleyball) or goalkeeper (in soccer)—the one who stands apart from the others. She more than stands, she does an elegant acrobatic move that is meant to show everyone something funny she does for her sister…it’s just she really should have worn bike shorts underneath her skirt!

When the class splits into quartets for lunch, we learn Komichi is one of the only Roubai students to have never attended cram school—such was her single-minded devotion to getting into Roubai so she could wear the fuku, she studied so hard she didn’t need cram school. We also meet two new classmates, soon to be friends: the kindly glasses-wearer Kojou Tomono, and the mischievous shit-stirrer Usagihara Touko.

Komichi may have attended school to this point alone—the only other person in her tiny school being her teacher—but just as she got into Roubai her own way, she also manages to be naturally gregarious without even trying; simply by being her own cute quirky self. She captivates her new classmates by perfectly reenacting the idol Miki’s lip gloss finger kiss gesture.

At Touko’s bidding, Komichi goes on to do a number of cute poses that capture the entire class’ attention. Turns out she had nothing to fear from wearing a uniform different than everyone else. Everyone in the class is different and unique in their own way, and the rookie homeroom teacher believes that will make them a fun an interesting first class.

While Komichi dishes out no shortage of entertainment for Usagihara, et al, she also happens to be having the absolute time of her life on her first day. Never is she so full of joy as when Usagihara and Kojou say “see you tomorrow” when she’s headed home. Komichi doesn’t walk home, she dances, bounds, leaps, and soars home, through achingly gorgeous, idyllic surroundings.

She comes home to find her father is home for the first time in what seems to be years. Perhaps demonstrating where Komichi gets her quirkiness, he’s so self-conscious about interacting with her all grown up, he pretends to be asleep. But after her bath with Kao (who insists Komichi bring Kizaki home to meet her) she finds her father outside, and the two talk as father and daughter under the stars.

When she learns when he has to leave in the morning, she tells him she’ll make a point to be up and in her sailor fuku so he can see her. Flashing another multidimensional smile, Komichi tells her dad what her new friends told her: “See you tomorrow!” Some curious yet still lovingly rendered animated tangents aside, Akebi’s Sailor Uni is comfort food that’s earnest, pure, and sweet almost beyond belief.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 01 (First Impressions) – Clothes Maketh Girl

From the opening moments that linger on rice paddies shimmering in the sunlight, Akebi-chan no Sailor-fuku makes it clear it is not fuckin’ around in the animation department. It also establishes right from the get-go that our heroine, Akebi Komichi, has got the moves, running across the countryside and pulling off near-perfect gymnastic moves that reminded me of the famously spry Kinomoto Sakura.

That’s not the only thing that reminded me of the Cardcaptor. Like Sakura’s show, Akebi places family, and familial love, at the forefront. Amazingly, both of Komichi’s parents are living and while her father is away for work, he makes sure to congratulate his daughter’s acceptance to the private middle school of choice, the illustrious Roubai Academy.

Komichi’s dream was to attend school in a lovely sailor fuku, and so her mom, who also attended Roubai, takes it upon herself to maker her one, from scratch. I appreciated the episode taking its time and sweating the details when it came to the making of the uniform, from choosing the cloth to preparing the tacking.

The episode also takes care to show that while Komichi’s little sister Kaois proud of her for getting into such a fancy school, she’s also sad that they won’t get to attend the same little country school anymore.

In a touching bath scene that’s brimming with sisterly love, Komichi tells Kao that she’s nervous too, especially about getting alone with the rich Tokyo girls at the school. Kao then turns around and assures her big sis she won’t have any trouble making friends, because she’s really cool.

The day the sailor fuku is completed, it feels like a combination of  Christmas morning, a wedding day, and the dawn before a battle. Komichi carefully puts on the brand new uni like she’s donning armor, and when she shows the completed look off to her mom and sister, they’re struck by the sheer beauty of it.

Alas…it’s the wrong uniform!

Komichi doesn’t learn until she arrives at Roubai for the opening ceremony and find all the other girls in charcoal blazers. Turns out that while her mom and her classmates wore sailor fukus in her day, the academy has since revamped their uniforms.

That said, the headmistress remembers Komichi telling them at her interview that it was her dream to wear the fuku, and since it is still technically Roubai issue, and Komichi’s mom put so much love into it, she decides to allow Komichi to wear it…if she so chooses.

Choosing to do so means standing out far more than she thought, and combined with her “simple country girl” background, could potentially make things that more difficult for her socially. Komichi is crestfallen upon coming home, but Kao has zero tolerance for her pity party, and gives her big sis a big ol’ spank on her bum, as if to say Snap out of your funk this instant…you’re cooler than this!

The next morning, Komichi leaves for her first day super-early, but not too early that Kao isn’t awake to see her big sis chose to keep wearing the uniform their mom made for her. She’s going to rely on “confidence and a smile” to make friends, whether her clothes match theirs or not.

When she arrives at school (after running through several gorgeous painterly scenes of her idyllic, almost Kincaid-ian setting), she finds she’s almost the first person there. The first person there is Kizaku Erika, who is introduced very carefully clipping her toenails at her desk…and then smelling the clippers. What does Komichi do to break the ice? Why, smell her own feet, of course!

That gesture, earnest and not at all mocking, helps save what could have been a disastrous first meeting. Komichi learns that Erika was so nervous about her first day she couldn’t sleep and arrived way too early, and is comforted to know she wasn’t alone in her nervousness.

The two take their assigned seats right next to each other, having calmed each other down. And at seat number one, Komichi is positioned to greet everyone else who enters. I suspect she’ll have no trouble making more friends.

As I said in the first ‘graph, CloverWorks really outdid themselves; this is a surpassingly beautiful episode of anime, so much so that my main concern is whether they can keep up this level of quality for an entire cour. Murakami Manatsu is another great new voice as Komichi, while vets Kuno Misaki and Hana-Kana anchor the fam as her sister and mom. In all, a very impressive opening salvo to a gentle, heartwarming slice-of-life.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Yuru Camp△ – 08 – Caribou in Minobu

This episode takes place between camping trips, with Chiaki and Aoi returning to the spotlight. After stewing in envy at their last trip over their neighbors’ fancy camping, Chiaki decided to get creative, putting together a cute dining set for under $30. But the bowl she bought can’t accept hot foods unless the lacquer is removed, while her new cast-iron skillet must be cleaned and seasoned before use.

Both are time-consuming and there are no shortcuts available, so Chiaki ropes in Aoi to help her after school, despite the fact exams are in a couple days. Nadeshiko is the one to suggest they go “Christmas camping” after exams, and the other two even invite Rin’s friend Saitou, who says she’ll definitely consider it.

Between learning the intricacies of bowl and skillet maintenance, Nadeshiko’s wonderfully random photo essays, and the simple pleasure of watching two old friends in Chiaki and Aoi simply riff off each other, it’s a fun outing (one of the best exchanges: Chiaki: “You have a family?!” Aoi: “What’s your problem?!”) despite there being no actual camping.

We fast-forward to after exams (Aoi does well, Nadeshiko meh, Chiaki just barely scraped by, despite her glasses) with Chiaki and Aoi taking Nadeshiko to the cute retro town of Minobu to pay a visit to the area’s camping mecca, Caribou. They’re like three kids in a candy store…only most of the candy is too expensive.

Nadeshiko gets the hard sell for a $43 lantern she falls in love with, then she’s introduced to the different types of camping mats, while Chiaki and Aoi learn that Nadeshiko may have a high tolerance for cold and discomfort. Combined with her dog-like attention span and pack mule strength and stamina, Nadeshiko is one tough cookie!

The three decide to melt into some super-comfy camping chairs on display, and Nadeshiko learns that Chiaki works at the liquor store right across from Aoi’s supermarket. Chiaki also mentions that their new history teacher Toba-sensei, while pretty and nice, is also notorious at the liquor store for buying booze every day. Looks like my prediction about Nadeshiko and Rin’s boozy camping neighbor ending up at their school will be proven correct!

Rin comes home from school to get changed for work, and ponders what she should do for the break. On the one hand, a solo camping trip would be her usual speed. Then again, she really enjoyed cooking a big feast with Nadeshiko. Personally, I’d pick the option that involved the best food!

The Outclub caps their day of modest shopping by tucking into Minobu’s specialty steamed buns, with Nadeshiko’s gluttony rubbing off on the other two. As everyone else seems to have a part-time job, Nadeshiko decides she’ll seek one as well, both to fund the often-pricey outdoor hobby, and to keep her virtually bottomless stomach full!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 04 – Standing Up to the Queen

Tomozaki just landed a lucky break. If there was no reason for Izumi Yuzu to approach him, he’d been making his presence known to the point that when he approached her, she felt she could come to him with her TackFam problem, which is really a Nakamura Shuuji problem. Bottom line: Izumi likes Shuuji, and wants to get good enough at the game to take him on. We also learn Shuuji recently turned down the Konno Erika, leader of the Neckties to which Yuzu belongs.

Yuzu invites Tomozaki to her place so he can teach her, and after one match he knows exactly what she needs to get better, starting with learning how to execute a short jump, which is simply a matter of practice and muscle memory. Yuzu is grateful for Tomozaki’s advice but wonders what the deal is with his various poses and gestures…turns out he’s mimicking Hinami’s teaching style without knowing it!

By the time Tomozaki is drawing detailed diagrams of all the moves Yuzu will have to memorize, she asks him: What is all the intense effort even for? He tells her what it’s not for: making friends or winning praise. When Yuzu claims she can’t ever change from her current status of superficially laughing with her necktie-wearing friends, he assures her he is proof that anyone can change; they just need to commit themselves and put in the effort.

While Hinami calls Tomozaki’s break with Yuzu pretty “miraculous” when they meet up for a debrief, she can’t deny he properly capitalized, using what he knows best (TackFam) to really connect with someone. That said, she still wants him to ask Fuuka out on a date, even producing movie tickets for them to use.

The night before, Tomozaki practices asking Fuuka out on the recorder Hinami gave her, showing how he’s learning how to listen to himself and adjust. But he also accidentally opens a folder of recordings Hinami didn’t delete: ones in which she too practices talking. He already considers it amazing she’s so good at the Game of Life; to hear the process firsthand is even more amazing.

Like him with TackFam, no matter how high a level you achieve, you can never stop practicing. But with practice comes the realization that sometimes circumstances won’t always accommodate your plans, nor will practice always inform what to do when it’s go time. To whit: Tomozaki calls an laudable audible: coming clean to Fuuka about having not read any of her favorite author, and thus not yet being ready to read her own novel.

This could have turned out disastrously, but the risk was well worth the reward of starting fresh from a position of honesty. A white lie or misunderstanding rarely forms a strong foundation for a relationship. While there’s clear and justifiable disappointment in Fuuka’s reaction, there’s also the sense she’s happy he’s being so honest. He’s also able to break the news naturally and casually enough not to come off as dismissive or cruel.

Working entirely outside the letter of Hinami’s plan while hewing to the spirit of her training, Tomozaki shows great growth here, while rejecting her “an in is an in” mentality. Yes, the author misunderstanding, got Fuuka talking to him, but so did simply asking Yuzu for a tissue.

He also wisely realizes that to ask her out on a date so soon after basically restarting their friendship from a place of honesty would be overdoing it, so he withholds the tickets for now. If he gets any flak from Hinami, he’ll be ready with a pretty good explanation. However, their next meeting is preempted by Shuuji’s two mates: he wants a TackFam rematch, now.

In the AV room, Tomozaki plays Shuuji while Shuuji’s mates, Yuzu, and Erika and her two Necktie acolytes watch. Tomozaki proceeds to beat Shuuji handily in match after match, but Shuuji keeps asking to play again. He grows more frustrated, even as he starts to improve slightly, to the point he’s able to take out one of Tomozaki’s health stocks.

That frustration creates an increasingly unpleasant tension and aura of desperation around Shuuji, to the point Erika begins to mock him as “weak”, his obsession with a “stupid game” as “creepy”, and that she dodged a bullet when he turned her down. The “stupid game” comment draws the ire of Tomozaki, as does her assertion that all of Shuuji’s hard work and practice amounts to nothing.

The old Tomozaki would have muttered something and not followed through, but this newly Hinami-trained Tomozaki is at least adept enough at the Game of Life to call Erika out for the haughty tourist she is. Shuuji may have been a dick to him all this time, but at least he’s committed to improving and keeps fighting no matter how much he loses. All Erika can do is mock someone else’s effort when she (at least as far as Tomozaki knows) puts in none at all.

Yuzu even has the courage to chime in and call Shuuji’s efforts “beautiful in a boyish way”, despite the fact doing so is contradicting the vaunted Queen of the Neckties. But I have no doubt it was Tomozaki’s earlier words about her ability to change that helped her summon the courage to speak up. Erika slinks away, pretending not to have learned anything, but she did. So did Shuuji, who probably resents Tomozaki defending him but also appreciated it.

Notable for her silence during all this is Hinami, which was no accident. The thing is, while she observed that Tomozaki had things well in hand, I also think she stayed above the fray in order to avoid needlessly upsetting the apple cart with Erika & Co., who would have likely felt ganged up on if she’d joined Tomozaki and Yuzu—an example of maintaining balance through inaction. Regardless, both Erika and Shuuji stop giving Tomozaki a hard time, now knowing better what he’s made of.

At their next meeting over lunch, Hinami asks how things are going with Fuuka, wondering if he’s lost motivation. He assures her he hasn’t, but without explaining the whole situation with coming clean and not wanting to pile on with a date request, Tomozaki pulls another laudable audible: whipping out the very tickets she gave him and asking Hinami if she’ll join him instead.

Hinami’s look of surprise is followed by the kind of proud face a master makes when their student has just done something good. Unfortunately, she’s not free tomorrow (what do you know, she does have other obligations!), but she is free for a movie now. Is it just me, or do these two just make a good couple, full stop?

It’s too early to tell, but I appreciate that Hinami doesn’t go all cliché blushy or tsundere at the prospect of Tomozaki asking her out. Maybe she gets that it’s for more “training”, or as thanks for her help so far. But at some point all these times they’re meeting up one-on-one and having fun will start painting the picture of two people…going out. We’ll see if anything comes of their consistently pleasant proximity, and more importantly, if more people start noticing them together all the damn time!

Crucially, this outing proved Tomozaki isn’t just some automaton carrying out Hinami’s directives, nor does she want him to be. She’s taught him the basics, and it’s up to him to experience how to properly use them and switch things up when warranted. The recording of Hinami also shows that her life game is an ongoing work in progress. I know it’s Tomozaki’s name in the title, but I would love to delve more into Hinami’s growth, and if Tomozaki has anything to teach her—something his recent shrewd freestyling might portend.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 03 – Character Creation, Phase 2

While a plethora of new characters were introduced last week, this episode keeps things simple by narrowing down the ones with whom Fumiya interacts to three: Aoi, Fuuka, and Yuzu. That not only keeps things from getting too scattered but is in keeping with Aoi’s desire to figure out who is best worth Fumiya’s time and effort.

Of course, first thing’s first: making him sufficiently presentable to converse with people. That means a trip to the mall for some new threads, a new haircut, and some lunch conversation practice. Fumiya has learned from the tapes that he has a tendency to mutter; Aoi tells him to use fewer words and rely more on gestures and tone to convey his emotions.

Quite by surprise, Fuuka is a waitress at the restaurant where they have lunch. Refreshingly, Fuuka doesn’t seem necessarily threatened by seeing them together, nor does she assume they’re on a date—she simply hadn’t pegged them as being friends material. Based on little details she noticed during their encounter, Aoi is convinced that Fuuka should be the “first heroine” Fumiya should pursue in his “playthrough.”

At their next meeting, Fumiya proudly reports that one of his small goals was achieved: his sister noticed he was putting more effort into his appearance. While Fumiya feels like he’s relying on “cheats” like dressing like the store mannquin or getting his hair done, Aoi insists that because he’s trusting in her and doing as she says, he deserves at least some of the credit for his success.

That said, Aoi isn’t going to start going easy on him. His next goal is to go somewhere alone with a girl who isn’t her. His related task for the week is to talk to Izumi Yuzu at least twice a day. Why Yuzu and not Fuuka? Because, as Aoi points out, real life isn’t a dating sim. Raising “affection levels” of one girl can raise them for all, along with increasing their innate possessiveness.

Fumiya is still weary that he’s not being “sincere”, but Aoi tells him it’s too early in his progress to worry about that. He’ll cross that bridge when he’s in a more serious relationship. For now, he needs “ins”, however he can get them. Things don’t go too smoothly with Yuzu at first; topics he chooses tend to lead to awkward conversational dead ends. But he keeps at it, and his quota for the week is eventually filled.

While in the library pretending to read a random book while coming up with TackFam strategies, Fumiya is approached by Fuuka, who notices the author he’s pretending to read is her favorite. Fumiya doesn’t correct her, and Fuuka ends up confessing something she’s never told anyone: she’s working on a novel, and would love it if he (and only he) read it sometime.

It’s a lovely little exchange because it’s the first of its kind fo Fuuka as well as Fumiya. Kayano Ai really sells Fuuka’s warmth and quiet enthusiasm, and Fuuka really does seem like a suitable person for Fumiya to pursue, and he has the perfect “in”.

As Aoi reiterates, it’s still too early to worry about “sincerity”; she can tell he’ll use it as an excuse to run away if she lets him. While he filled his quota in talking to Yuzu twice a day for a week, he may feel like he failed, like a battle he loses that results in KO and Game Over.

But unlike games of that kind, in the game of life you gain as much if not more XP by losing than by winning, so you’re better off keeping up the fight than starting over from scratch. That assertion really speaks to the gamer in Fumiya. The losses he tallied against Yuzu weren’t in vain; they got him to at least Level 3, and he can use what he learned from those failures to succeed with Fuuka.

But then life throws him for a loop when he spots Yuzu sitting alone and looking somewhat down. Remembering Aoi’s advice for him to mention something about her clothes or face, Fumiya tactlessly tells Yuzu she looks “gloomy”, but she doesn’t storm off. In fact, she just keeps looking gloomy, and even gets to the point that tears are welling in her eyes when she comes right out and asks him to teach her how to play TackFam.

I don’t believe this is the same kind of “in” as Fuuka’s secret novel reading—it’s possible Yuzu wants to learn to play so she can play with another boy she’s interested in, or maybe she just wants to learn TackFam, period. But the fact Fumiya reached out to her so much in the last week made him a viable person for Yuzu approach with such a request. So it could be an overture for a friendship. We shall see!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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