The Detective Is Already Dead – 04 – Blue Moon in Her Eye

Huh…well that was…something? I dunno, there’s something very odd and random about just running into an idol concert and randomly wandering around until you realize the bad guy can hear you even through all the noise…and the bad guy gives away his position for no reason. Also, both the crowd of weird shadow people who all have identical green light sticks (why not…blue?), Yui’s performance, and the general sound mix left a lot to be desired.

I’ll, admit, while I suspected Yui made that threat letter, I didn’t think the giant sapphire would her false left eye. That’s odd in more a cool way than a head-scratching one. Still, the entire concert scene that culminated in Kimizuka leaping to push Yui out of the path of a crossbow bolt lacked suspense and the appropriate level of production value.

Matters aren’t helped when Yui explains why her eye is a sapphire and while I obviously sympathize with her losing her parents at such an age, only to inherit a giant mansion, immense fortune, and oh yeah, a sapphire eye that SPES is apparently trying to steal.

That brings us to the most contrived part of the episode: that Yui was manipulated by SPES into trying to kill Kimizuka and Nagisa by rigging a bomb in the jewel vault. This is indeed a twist, but Kimizuka’s manner of deducing it makes no sense. Also her eye has x-ray vision…so I guess it’s not just a sapphire, and Yui is part cyborg?

It’s all moot, as despite the fact Yui pulls a gun on Kimizuka and Nagisa, five minutes later she’s lowering it and crying about not wanting her jewel eye stolen. This begs the question of why is SPES only now trying to steal it. It also seems strange that a secret evil organization would choose such a public and audacious manner of trying to steal it as shooting a crossbow bolt through a beloved idol’s eye.

These are the kind of questions I’d rather not have, but because this episode is only interested in conclusions and twists and not doing any of the work to set them up properly, my mind wandered often.

In any case, Yui is now a friend and compatriot of Kimizuka and Nagisa, fellow targets of the nebulous Bad Guys. The next day, as news of Kimizuka rescuing Yui plasters the city’s video screens, another person from Kimizuka’s past arrives: a blonde bombshell named Char whom we learn—in a flashback in the most obnoxiously expositiony way possible—is the brawn to Kimizuka’s brains.

Siesta insisted that the two learn to get along and cover for each others’ weaknesses. Either that never happened or it never had a chance to happen, because that day on the boat with Kimizuka and Char was Siesta’s last. I foresee next week focusing on Char’s return to Kimizuka’s life, the two trying and failing to get along, but not giving up on trying in honor of their mentor…whose heart is alive and well in Nagisa.

Hear what Crow has to say about episode 4 here.

The Detective Is Already Dead – 03 – Sapphire in the Rough

Saikawa Yui is a nationally famous idol on the rise who also happens to be a ridiculously wealthy heiress. As her parents died three years ago, she is now head of a household that possesses, among other things, a sapphire worth upwards of three billion yen.

How she happened to find Kimizuka or know he was tied to a famous detective is unclear (though I’m guessing with her money she can afford all manner of resources) but her mission for him is simple: prevent the theft of the sapphire on the day of her live Tokyo Dome performance.

Nagisa threw Kimizuka for a momentary loop when she declares that she is the legendary detective and he is merely her sidekick, but he isn’t surprised for long. After all, Siesta’s heart is beating in Nagisa’s chest, and Nagisa later mentions that due to her prior poor health she didn’t really take pains to establish a clear identity for herself.

Now Siesta’s heart seems to be pulling her along, and Nagisa seems game to be along for the ride. Nagisa has taken a shine to Kimizuka, and vice versa, and while Kimizuka is concerned that the fact Nagisa wears her new heart on her sleeve could cause problems for her as a detective (who must always follow their heads first), that doesn’t change the fact he’s looking as forward to working with her as she is him.

Despite being packed with just the kind of almost-too-polished witty banter I often enjoy in these kinds of series, this was still the weakest episode of the bunch. It lacked the action and intrigue of the double-length first episode, and lacked much of the emotional resonance of the second. Instead, it’s basically about a case-of-the-week(s) that seems simple on the surface, but it’s complexities remain known only to Kimizuka.

While his claim that Yui-nya is lying should bear intriguing fruit next week, and there were likely a few clues this week that will be referred to when he makes his big deductory speech, the fact is this episode’s true value can’t be fully assessed due to its reliance on the payoff in the next.

Also, the fact Yui is so quick to label Kimizuka a pervert feels both lazy and unnecessary. Even if it’s mostly in jest, it undermines the goodwill built up last week which portrayed Kimizuka as a decent mature fellow. Yui doth protest too much…though maybe that’s the point: she’s trying to deflect his suspicions about what she’s hiding from him and Nagisa with childish insults.

We’ll see … as for my prediction: Yui made the ransom note-like warning that the gem would be stolen, or possibly hired people to steal it.

The Detective Is Already Dead – 02 – Heart of the Matter

Sometimes I pick up on the mystery at the beginning. From the moment Natsunagi Nagisa told Kimihiko she was the recipient of a heart transplant a year ago—the same year Siesta died—I knew it was Siesta’s heart she had. It’s, as Nagisa later remarks, why she’s so forward with him at first, and also so weird, sticking her hand in his mouth and threatening to touch his uvula before giving him a comforting hug.

It’s partly so he can hear the heart, but also because it’s the closest he can get to Siesta now that she’s gone. Never mind that “memory transference” is pseudoscience. I believe there are documented instances of people suddenly yearning for things or people connected to the donor. There’s a reason for the popular belief the heart is the domain of the soul and not the brain.

The thing is, it didn’t matter that I immediately figured out the “mystery”, because that wasn’t the point. The point was the emotional fallout of such a reunion. Kimihiko had returned to his lukewarm ordinary life of high school and was fine with it, but he later admits he “couldn’t go on” without some form of closure.

Of course, that’s before he himself figures out what the heck is going on. I’m sure he had some suspicions—you’re not a legendary detective’s sidekick for three years without absorbing some deductive wisdom—prior to taking Nagisa to meet the very person who could not cannot under any circumstances harm Siesta, and so cannot harm Nagisa, the new owner of her heart.

While lacking anything in the way of action like the first episode (which feels more like a prologue to this series), the fact this second outing half the length means a more satisfyingly taut story can be told. It doesn’t waste any time, yet doesn’t feel rushed. Your mileage may vary, but I derived a great deal of emotional impact from the reunion of Siesta’s heart and her clearly bored and listless assistant.

A lot of the resonance is due to some particularly decent dialogue towards the end, when Kimihiko realizes that Siesta’s heart (and Nagisa along with it) needs both a hug and reassurance. Taketatsu Ayana, one of the best in the business, voices Nagisa pitch-perfect with a cool effortlessness.

Even if Siesta is no longer in Kimihiko’s life, I hope we get more Nagisa. As for the Chuunibyou-looking girl who shows up at the very end looking for the Legendary Detective, well…we’ll see, won’t we?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Crow’s watching this too! Read his review here.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 05 – Three Digits of Damage

We’re unfortunately not treated to Tomozaki’s movie date with Hinami, though we do get a glimpse of the all-important post-move café stop. Suffice it to say, there’s no movement on their matchup; things remain at a clinical master-pupil remove. Later that weekend they play TackFam together, where at least Tomozaki can still school her once in a while!

Tomozaki built confidence with his passionate defense of Nakamura and TackFam, and Izumi is now initiating chats with him in class, as is Nakamura’s friendlier mate Mizusawa, who suggests they go on a double date. Hinami, who’ll also go, leaves the second girl up to Tomozaki, and he chooses Izumi, wanting to build on the rapport they’ve developed thus far. The “in” he uses the group date is Nakamura’s birthday, which he learned from the flash cards.

While his invitation is rocky at first, he adjusts in “mid-battle” to brand Nakamura’s birthday as a good opportunity to make up with him. That suits Izumi, who is in. Later, Mizusawa calls out Tomozaki’s recent progress as him having read a “de-geekification book.” He’s not far off. Mizusawa also notes how chummy Tomozaki has been with Hinami, and thinks he’s “up to something” by then asking Izumi out.

Once Tomozaki navigates the initially intimidating TWINE app (quietly impressing his imouto), the shopping trip for Nakamura’s birthday is on. Hinami had imagined a much simpler bite to eat, and also seemed to object to Tomozaki inviting Izumi rather than someone else. In both cases, he upped the difficulty level of the event, and he only has himself to blame if it’s all too much.

His goal during the event is to make two successful suggestions related to the shopping trip. He actually does make one, as they head to the electronics store on his suggestion. It’s also his line of thinking that leads Izumi to purchasing styling wax, but that’s only an assist. To get a group to agree to your suggestions is to “control the mood”.

During the trip, Izumi draws close to Tomozaki and brings up the rumors about Hinami and Mizusawa—rumors that appear to be supported, but not proven, by how chummy they are together. Tomozaki doesn’t admit it to Hinami later, but learning of that rumor threw him off his game for the remainder of the trip…something Hinami does notice both during and afterwards.

When he asks Izumi for specifics about the rumors, he doesn’t get any—they’re just rumors. No doubt if he brought them up to Hinami, she’d deny them, and likely be justified in doing so, but who knows? We’re not any more privy to the rest of Hinami’s life as Tomozaki is. In any case, she keeps the focus on him in their sewing room briefing.

While it’s good that Tomozaki is starting to notice the improvement in his appearance (especially after the sample wax), he made a critical error in making no distinction between quality suggestions with persuasive suggestions. In reality, it can be hard to convince a group of a good suggestion, or easy to convince them of a bad one, and vice versa.

The only way to make headway in a group dynamic is to be ready to make suggestions that you know the group will accept. Misusawa did this organically, but Tomozaki will have to work at it to get it down. He briefly calls any game where crap suggestions can beat good ones due to social “trickery” to be “garbage” mechanics, but Hinami describes a theoretical “Negotiation Game” employing both effective speech skills and abundant info on one’s audience to unify interests and create consensus. In that context, Tomozaki sees it as a well-made game after all.

Mizusawa was impressed by his passion, but Tomozaki can’t achieve his goals by acting like Ace Attorney delivering a closing argument. Negotiation is key. And all this will imminently come into play as Hinami becomes a nominee for the student council. To her surprise, she’ll be opposed by Mimimi! Will this be the first instance of Tomozaki witnessing Hinami’s strategy falter? Either way, observing how Hinami fares should prove instructive.

P.S. I’ve never had shrimp on a pizza before, but the anime industry is apparently urging me to try it.

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

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 02 – Boosting Social XP

With Fumiya’s goals laid out, it’s time to grind! Talking to three different girls is a steep task for someone who virtually never speaks to any, but Aoi has a detailed plan for  him. First, she’s already chosen to whom he should speak from her circle of friends—a measure of quality control. But she notably doesn’t hold his hand the whole way. He has to get out there and execute on his own.

An added wrinkle is the the fact girls at their school have a choice of wearing either a bow or necktie, and the custom of only the popular girls wearing the latter. Two of the girls he must speak to are with the “necktie team,” which feels like an added level of difficulty. But in his very first exchange with necktier Izumi Yuzu, simply asking her for a tissue, Fumiya does fine; he even interacts with a second girl in bow-tier Kikuchi Fuuka.

Fumiya hesitates in his next interaction during home ec, with the lively Nanami Minami (AKA Mimimi), because the plan said Aoi would be present to have his back, but this also seems like Aoi putting him on the deeper end of the pool to see what he’s got when faced with the unexpected. He ends up lauding Minami for her “empathy” when she says “I get that”, sounding like an old man and eliciting genuine, non-mocking laughter from her.

So far so good, but what happens when the social situation—or “battle”—is complicated by additional “combatants”? First, Natsubayashi Hanabi (AKA Tama) arrives, adding a completely different vibe to the conversation as Mimimi affectionately gloms onto her and tells her “Fumiya is funny!”

Before Mimimi or Fumiya can explain it to Tama so she doesn’t feel out of the loop, the three main “in-crowd” dudes arrive. They’re led by Nakamura Shuuji, whom we know to still be sore over his TackFam loss to Fumiya. Mimimi explains Fumiya’s “joke”, Shuuji dismisses it as no joke at all, and Mimimi puts it to a vote.

Fumiya notices that Tama doesn’t vote, so he also abstains so as not to keep her feeling left out. Finally, Aoi arrives and votes for Fumiya, giving both him and Tama the cover they needed to vote for him. She even uses the opportunity to bring up the fact Shuuji lost to Fumiya, and how his resultant sour attitude may be why he was dumped.

If all this sounds extremely complex, it’s because we’re watching all of the intricacy that lies behind seemingly mundane or effortless high school social interactions through Fumiya’s eyes: as a novice trying to familiarize himself with the game’s  mechanics and and pitfalls.

In their afterschool debriefing in the sewing room, Aoi explains how she wasted no time broached the topic of Shuuji’s TackFam loss as part of a larger effort to avoid Shuuji—who like her has considerable social clout—from being rude to Fumiya and hurting his progress (since it would give others permission to be rude).

Aoi believes that on balance, Fumiya’s first “field practice” was a huge success. He was a little shaky out there, but the conditions were met without cheating. She also has him rely on his own instincts by garnering comments form him. For instance, he noticed Tama seemed “a bit off”, which Aoi chalks up to Tama’s strong will and hesitance to “go along to get along”

Between the vote and debriefing, Fumiya witnesses the interactions between just the trio of Aoi, Mimimi and Tama, and learns why Hanabi is nicknamed Tama (b/c “hanabi” means fireworks, and you traditionally say “tamaya!” when they explode…pretty clever!) We also learn that Mimimi is not afraid of showing affection for her friends, whether it’s glomming on Tama or tickling Aoi’s navel.

Aoi “returns fire” by going in for a kiss—which seems to throw Mimimi off balance—only to gently blow on her lips. Both this incident and the fact Aoi being the only one in class with the “guts” to tease Shuuji further reinforce the reality that Aoi is an elite, “utterly terrifying” player of this game. Like Fumiya in TackFam, if you’re coming at Aoi IRL, you best come correct!

Now that Fumiya has familiarized himself with conversation somewhat, the next step is to get better at it by continuing to recognize the reactions of the girls he talks to, the shifts in mood those conversations take, and become comfortable with adjusting on the fly.

Being able to join in conversations with girls multiple times per day (no one-and-dones here) will also help him make progress towards his medium goal of getting a girlfriend. The more girls Fumiya converses with, the more reactions Aoi will have to gauge whom he should be talking to more. It’s like researching a boss before entering battle to ensure victory!

While becoming more agile in conversation through the accumulation of XP, Fumiya will simultaneously be practicing proper posture. A stronger posture will result in a stronger state of mind, just as confidence can be boosted by drawing on the positive reactions better posture will engender. Aoi clutches Fumiya’s buttock, but not as a flirtation. It’s merely a clinical check to ensure he’s using those muscles properly.

That afternoon, Aoi says she’ll be heading home with two of the three in guys (not Shuuji) and Mimimi, that he’ll be accompanying them, taking mental notes and honing his conversational skills. With Aoi with him this time, she’s able to support him with his “butt exercise” comment, which might’ve clanged to the floor without her seconding its efficacy.

Aoi then throws Fumiya a curveball mid-trip home: he and Mimimi are getting off early, since they live in the same area, so he’ll be interacting one-on-one with her, just like in home ec. Fortunately, Mimimi has no problem with his. On the contrary, she seems eager to help Fumiya come out of his shell even thought she’s unaware of his training, giving him an encouraging pat on the back.

Fumiya and Mimimi casually discuss his glumness and her liveliness, and when he asks if there’s ever times she’s not “all smiling and bubbly”, she says those times are when it’s most important to be that way. He then recalls what Aoi said about the body and mind being liked, and Mimimi can’t help but bring up the fact he and Aoi have been awfully buddy-buddy of late.

Fumiya sidesteps that by declaring Aoi out of his league, though that matter is far from closed. Mimimi maintains he should “let his fun side shine” more often, since he’s shown he’s actually pretty funny when he wants to be. Fumiya explains that fun isn’t the end-all-be-all for him; in TackFam, for instance, he plays because he loves it, and the fun is a bonus.

Mimimi also shows quite a bit of self-reflection when the subject turns to Tama, comparing her “won’t bend or be bent” nature to her “always be bending” attitude. It’s another great success for Fumiya, as he and Mimimi never had so much as an awkward silence while walking together.

As for determining who might be girlfriend material, that remains to be seen, but in their next debriefing Aoi has Fumiya acknowledge that his tendency to speak his mind regardless of the mood of the conversation makes him similar to Tama, who isn’t afraid to speak hers. Aoi believes that’s a strength in both, and Fumiya shouldn’t be afraid to use it.

Like the previous meeting, Aoi asks Fumiya to bring up anything else he learned, and he says he’s become aware that any productive conversation requires specific roles be filled, like different jobs in an RPG party: someone who introduces new topics (like Mimimi) and one who expands on existing ones (like Aoi).

Aoi is glad he’s picked up on this organically, and directs him to practice playing both roles. She expresses her joy with the phrase “HEXactly!”, which she finally explains was the catchphrase of a retro game she loved. She’s so delighted he’s heard of it she breaks out of teaching mode…but only momentarily!

To that end, Aoi has prepared flash cards of conversation topics for Fumiya to practice, and also recorded their meeting so he can listen to the sound of his voice. She also arranges their first Saturday meet-up. The fact she’s spending a day she’s free of club work on Fumiya means Aoi is determined to make her reclamation project a resounding success.

It’s great to see Fumiya not just making steady progress, but for the difficulty level not to be artificially heightened by, say, cartoonishly intractable personalities. At the end of the day these aren’t tough “bosses” Fumiya is being made to fight: Mimimi, Tama, Yuzu, and Fuuka are all nice people who aren’t hard to get along with, and all seem willing in one way or another to give him the benefit of the doubt despite his reputation.

At the same time, I’m thoroughly pleased Fumiya doesn’t need to be dragged kicking and screaming from his morose philosophy. While understandably a bit reticent at times, he’s neither resistant nor stubborn about submitting to Aoi’s prescribed plan. The best way he can show respect to her not inconsiderable efforts is by being a model trainee; a veritable sponge absorbing as much as he can, while not forgetting to have fun. So far, so good!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Blame the Game

“You cannot lose if you do not play.”—Marla Daniels, The Wire

“I’m not fucking crazy … I’m just goal-oriented.”—Annie Landsberg, Maniac

Our protagonist Tomozaki Fumiya (handle nanashi) is teen with a dearth of social skills and friends and seeks solace and contentment in the world of gaming. In the first of a veritable festival of metaphors this show dishes out, he’s a god-tier player of the popular fighting game Tackfam, but a bottom-tier player in the Game of Life. As such, even though he splashes the popular Nakamura Shuuji in Tackfam, it’s Shuuji who leaves school flanked by two pretty girls.

This leads Fumiya—who is not a refugee from a war-torn nation—to declare “The game of life is garbage”, followed immediately by an establishing shot of his family’s above average-sized detached home in a quiet neighborhood, thence to his spacious bedroom with hardwood floors, a Mr. Slim, and his own entertainment center.

I actually laughed out loud at this juxtaposition, even if it wasn’t quite the show’s intention. Then I couldn’t help but think: This guy is a whiny loser and I don’t like him. But hey, that’s the point: I’m not supposed to! In stories like this, something or someone becomes a catalyst for positive change.

In this case, it’s a someone—a fellow gamer (handle NO NAME) who is second only to Fumiya in the Tackfam national rankings. Fumiya respects NO NAME a great deal, and when he plays him he can tell how much effort and dedication he puts into training. When NO NAME suggests they meet up IRL, Fumiya doesn’t hesitate.

Little does Fumiya know that not only is NO NAME not a guy, but she’s someone he already interacted with at school prior to their meet-up, as she extended him some obligatory class-rep friendliness upon learning he and Shuuji played. NO NAME is Hinami Aoi, the “it” girl at his school: top grades, top athletes, loved by all. He considers Aoi a god-tier player of the game of life, like Shuuji.

Thankfully, Aoi’s reaction to Fumiya being nanashi is spot-on: “This sucks,” she declares, quickly losing her interest in further interaction. Her reason is plain: just as Fumiya is in awe of her as a player of life, she was in awe of nanashi as a player of Tackfam. To learn the real nanashi is a “rock-bottom loser” who has “given up on life” is deflating, and in turn reflects poorly on her, since she pegged nanashi to be a better person IRL.

Voiced by the wonderful Kanemoto Hisako, in with a feminine strictness that had me wondering if Aoi was really Nakiri Erina with dyed hair and contacts, Aoi brings legitimacy to “polite rudeness”—a term I may have just made up—in her takedown of Fumiya. She also has just the right response when Fumiya protests that the game of life is unbalanced, and her “high initial stats” imbue her and those like her with baseless confidence.

What’s so satisfying about her response, and can be tied to the tightness and cleverness of the dialogue throughout the episode, is that she repeats to Fumiya the very same words Fumiya said to Shuuji when he called Tackfam trash: There’s nothing more shameful than blaming the game, especially when you’d barely played. Fumiya goes on to argue that you can’t change characters IRL…and that’s when Aoi takes his hand, and before he knows it, he’s sitting in her bedroom.

It’s at this point in the ep when I began to develop a measure of concern about the emergence of a somewhat unpleasant subtext: Aoi seemed to be going extremely out of her way to be this dude’s archetypal “guardian angel”. After all, what does she get out of helping him? You can say she’s simply being every bit the “good person” and “perfect heroine” Fumiya saw her as to this point: helping those in need help themselves.

But there’s more to it than that, which justifies the extent of her effort vis-a-vis Fumiya, which we learn when she invites him to her room…her very similarly-sized and appointed room:

They’re practically mirror images of each other! Whether this was intentional or the creator/producers simply drew up some normal high school kid rooms, I appreciated the symbolism. There’s common ground between Aoi and Fumiya: their passion for the games at which they excel. Aoi happens to be good at both Tackfam and life, but she shows Fumiya the latter success isn’t due to high base stats.

She does this simply by being who she is—someone Fumiya didn’t know—by appearing before him in cozier clothes and without makeup. She assures him he can attain normie-level looks just fine by practicing better expressions and proper posture. When Aoi watched Fumiya play as nanashi, she saw the same serious effort she applied IRL—in fact, she thought him more capable of effort than she!

So yeah, from where Aoi stands and how hard she’s worked, Fumiya doesn’t get to say the game of life is unbalanced garbage. He just needs to start applying the same effort of which he’s already proven more than capable in Tackfam. She’ll prove he can—and validate her ideals—by helping him out. Fumiya is initially dubious because he assumes Aoi ranks life higher than Tackfam, but when she reveals her belief that life is tied for first with Tackfam, he’s moved.

He’s moved because while he’s always gotten online recognition for his online efforts, those same efforts have netted him precisely zero friends and recognition…until he met NO NAME/Aoi, who bridged the divide between games. In Aoi he finally has someone IRL who recognizes and moreover values his efforts.

As flawed as Fumiya is, he still recognizes his own hypocrisy and has a sense of honor, and is thus motivated to put more effort into “playing” life as Aoi suggests, so he can find out for himself if the game is actually good. This, along with Aoi using the Fumiya Reclamation Project as a means of continuing to grow herself, goes a long way towards making their budding relationship both balanced and compelling.

As for what form Fumiya’s training will take, well here’s where we must suspend disbelief in Aoi having a half-hour to spare in her clearly packed academic, athletic, and social schedule. They meet at the school’s deserted sewing room (where I thought for a moment she’d teach him how to make better clothes, LOL) and Aoi lays out an aggressive plan composed of large, medium, and small goals. The primary goal is “to be as satisfied with offline life” as she is.

Fumiya can see by the structure of the plan that it’s not all that different from how he trains for Tackfam, a realization Aoi was both counting on and appreciates as it will save some explanation time. She’s already given him a facemask behind which he must constantly smile behind in order to improve his expression (this leads to an awkward scene with his imouto, who asks him not to be more creepy than he already is).

But like Nakiri Erina, Aoi has no intention of going easy on Fumiya offline, considering she knows the effort he’s capable of online. He must acquire a girlfriend before starting his third year. Before that, he must get a third party to notice his appearance/vibe has improved, which has already started with the smiling training, but also means he must actually talk to at least three girls at school.

That’s no mean feat for a bottom-tier character in a game he’s barely played to this point, but part of improving one’s character involves occasional stumbling and getting ones ass kicked (figuratively, of course). I notice there are four girls in the middle ground of the promo art, so I imagine Fumiya will start with one of them. So begins a long, fraught, but hopefully rewarding journey towards not thinking life is a garbage game. And as you can tell by how many damn words I’ve written about it, I’m game!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Oregairu 3 – 05 – Making It Work

After enduring a heartbreaking ending last week, Yui doesn’t appear in this episode, which is just as well as Hiki, Shizuka, Iroha and Yukino are more than sufficient. As Shizuka lays out the situation to Hikki, he laments that the prom already in danger of being checkmated.

The “anti-prom faction” most likely led by Yukino’s mom has already sown the seeds of negativity regarding the event. “The prom might be cancelled” can become “The prom should be cancelled” much easier than overcoming the naysaying. In effect, the detractors are using the original “social media”—word of mouth and inertia—to undermine the prom.

Hikki wants to help. He also knows Yukino considers making the prom a reality to be the ultimate personal trial, and will surely reject any offer of help, lest it descend into undue dependence as before. While she chain smokes Shizuka helps Hikki determine the proper language with which to approach this complex problem.

Having shot the breeze with a sensei, Hikki moves on to his kohai in Iroha, who stops him from entering the StuCo room without her knowing how he’s going to deal with Yukino. He ends up surprising her (which he does a lot anyway since her surface opinion of him is so low) by making this about taking responsibility for the complication of both the prom situation and his relationship with Yukino.

Like Shizuka, Iroha gives Hikki her blessing in his imminent confrontation with Yukino. But while Shizuka was mostly joking about having to marry him if she ends up fired over her role in the prom scenario, Iroha is still harboring some pretty strong feelings for this guy, with which she’s not sure quite what to do, resulting in frustration and her refrain he and his friends are a “pain”…which they most certainly are!

When Hikki and Yukino finally meet in the StuCo room (with Iroha watching), he comes right out and asks to help, using a lot of qualifying language to underscore how it won’t be like other times when she’d come to depend on him; he’d be moving as instructed and not interfering. He gives this argument everything he’s got, because in the moment he thinks it’s best.

Yukito appreciates the offer, but is resolute in making the prom happen without Hikki; as Shizuka said, it’s a matter of personal pride as much as wanting to grow beyond her dependency. When he mentions how he wants to “save” her, it’s a word that catches Iroha totally off-guard, while Yukino understands immediately, and is happy just to hear it, even if her position remains unchanged.

Hikki is of the mind that they’ll need more than just a Plan A to get the prom out of check, and so he didn’t come into that room without a Plan B for how he’d end up helping Yukino. He proposes something that came up last time they had a “difference of opinion” when it came to how to accomplish a job: a good old-fashioned showdown.

Rather than helping Yukino directly, he’ll go his own way and use his own methods to bring the prom to fruition, foiling those who want it to fail but don’t want to be the ones actively stamping it out. This appeals to Yukino’s desire for independence as well as her competitive spirit and love of winning. They even set up stakes: whoever loses the showdown will have to do whatever the winner says.

What had been palpable tension suddenly lifts from the room and the two launch into good-hearted trash talking, the parameters for their interaction having been established. Iroha, who is privy to all of this, feels like a voyeur listening to either a confession, a lovers quarrel, a breakup, or any combination of the above. Watching the two affectionately bicker is a glimpse into another world where Iroha is baffled by the dialect and local customs.

Yet her impressively eloquent thought: “Seriously, I never imagined their talk would get this complicated while being so clear and precise”, could just as well be describing Oregairu’s dialogue, in general, which is always about more than the sum of its words. Finally, she’s frustrated that while Hikki is so determined to “take responsibility” for things with Yukino and Yui, he has yet to take responsibility for how he’s come to make her feel…and how uphill her battle truly is.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 01 (First Impressions) – Back to Fantasy Basics Done Right

Golem, Guardian of the Forest, never once doubted his purpose in life: to observe and protect the natural processes of the forest with a minimal of interference. Enter Somali, a human girl in chains he encounters. Suddenly, the parameters of his purpose have changed dramatically, and lacking emotions, he isn’t quite sure why.

What if, a fantasy anime didn’t start with a guy being transported from Japan to a new world? Or if, humans weren’t in charge, and monsters and demi-humans weren’t an oppressed minority? Somali and the Forest Spirit provides a welcome return to classic meat-and-potatoes fantasy slice-of-life, in the best traditions of Studio Ghibli—not to mention Disney.

The premise couldn’t be more elegant: Stoic Golem meets Exuberant Kid. While he teaches her how to live, she teaches him how to feel. But the fact said kid is a human is a big deal in this world. There was a legendary war between humanity and monsters, and the monsters won. Humans became a source of food, then curiosity before all but dying out.

Somali, therefore, is endangered in more ways than one. The sense of dread and imminent danger of revealing her lack of horns (sewed into her hood), as well as when Somali strays from Golem to follow a not-quite cat, brings a nice sharp-but-not-too-sharp edge to the proceedings. So does the fact the Golem’s arm is damanged; he may not be able to protect her from everything.

Still, while there are certainly dangers in store (though they may or may not reach the level of Made in Abyss craziness), the heart of Somali is the never unhumorous repartee between the two leads. Somali talks, well, like a kid should talk (Minase Inori is right in her wheelhouse), while Golem is much more verbose and robotic, as one would expect from a Golem.

With rich and lovely visuals, an appropriately otherworldly yet conventionally-orchestrated soundtrack, a strong central duo with fun dialogue, and just the right amount of inherent danger, Somali and the Forest Spirit checks all the boxes for a MagicalChurlSukui-Approved anime. Onward!

Domestic na Kanojo – 04 – This Is How It Should Be…Right?

Deciding they can’t just hole up at Natsuo’s friend’s house, Natsuo and Rui spend the better part of half this episode stalking Hina, but coming up with absolutely nothing. They even steal her phone while she’s in the bath so Rui can try to imitate her sister’s voice and break up with Shuu. It all fails. But then something fortuitous happens: Hina and Shuu come to them, at the very cafe where Natsuo’s friend works and where Natsuo and Rui are discussing their next steps.

Things accelerate quickly, as Natsuo comes right out and demands Shuu end it. Shuu is non-committal, and when he tells Hina he still needs more time before he can divorce his wife, Rui throws a glass of water in Shuu’s face and runs off. Natsuo catches up to her, to be a shoulder to cry on. This whole process of confronting Hina’s affair has definitely brought Natsuo and Rui closer together. Neither of them are happy with how things turned out, and both are in agreement that they want Shuu out of the picture.

Ultimately, however, it’s up to Hina to make the choice. Shuu seems fine with the status quo being maintained indefinitely, where he’s with both women and doesn’t have to take responsibility one way or the other. The next morning, Rui’s eyes are puffy from crying all night, and doesn’t speak to Hina when she suggests they go shopping together for a birthday gift for their mom.

Natsuo, meanwhile, is off to visit his mother’s grave. We get a flashback to ten years ago: Natsuo was in first grade, and a crybaby. Worried about, well, worrying his mom once she passes away, he resolves not to cry, even at the funeral where it’s expected. He wishes she were still alive, and wonders how life would be if that were so.

Then he’s surprised to find Hina and Rui join him at the grave. They’ve come to formally introduce themselves to his mom and give offerings. Hina also informs Natsuo that she’s broken up with Shuu. Natsuo is delighted, and Rui is beaming. Hina even says she’s been thinking about doing it anyway due to Shuu’s half-year-long reluctance to leave his wife.

What stopped her from leaving him was her genuine love for him…but ultimately family came first. She couldn’t go on with Shuu knowing it made them so unhappy. The show seems to be taking Natsuo and Rui’s side in this instance, but will things really be that simple as Hina pulling the plug? And what of Shuu’s observation that Hina doesn’t seem to treat Natsuo like a kid? I forsee more potholes on the road of familial bliss. This is a drama, after all—not…some kind of…“constantly happy times-having” show…

Domestic na Kanojo – 03 – The Scary Realm of Adults

Natsuo visits his best friend at the cafe where he works, and describes the incident with Hina and her boyfriend last night. His friend diagnoses Natsuo as jealous, and he can relate. He observes women stuck in non-ideal or flat-out bad relationships at the cafe all the time, and jokingly(?) wishes they’d just break up and date him. Like the young “office lady” who is in an affair with a married man. His friend later spots that woman outside, and to Natsuo’s shock, it’s Hina.

Not only is Hina doing something morally questionable by sleeping with someone else’s husband, but she’s doing something contrary to Natsuo’s perfect ideal of her up to that point. Like catching her crying on the rooftop and then watching her drink herself to sleep, it’s another crack in that facade.

When he confronts her at home, she kindly tells him to stay out of her business, as she dwells within the world of adults where kids like him shouldn’t set foot, and that’s basically that. Then Natsuo kisses her, she shoves him back, slaps him, then kisses him back.

Before Natsuo knows it, he’s being pushed onto the bed by Hina, but she stops when she sees his eyes, which she immediately detects as those of a child. He may have thought his stolen kiss was bold and cool, but she can sense his fear now that she’s responded to it.

With that, she gets off of him and shows him the door. It may have been harsh, but Hina is right that her business is her own, and she gave him fair warning not to stray into it. Also, Natsuo initiated with the kiss. That being said, she doesn’t feel good about having but Natsuo in his place. Indeed, she feels like shit/

The next day Natsuo’s father finds a note from him saying he’s gone to his friend’s house for a couple days. Pops and his wife quickly assume it’s a move protesting the marriage, but Rui knows better why Natsuo left, and Hina’s not great at hiding from Rui that she knows as well.

Natsuo moulders away in his friend’s room, not even moving for the entirety of a cafe shift. But as luck would have it, Natsuo is looking out the window when Rui walks past, clearly looking for someone. They meet eyes and he meets her downstairs, and his friend’s mom invites them in.

Rui isn’t copying Natsuo, she’s simply “boycotting” Hina’s affair, much like Natsuo, if for different reasons. One reason they share is that they both had a higher idea of who Hina is, and she’s letting them down with her adultery, and if she wants her little sister and stepbrother in her life, she’ll have to make a difficult choice.

After a strategy session with Natsuo’s friend , he and Rui return to a dark house where their folks are considering signing divorce papers. Such is the result of Natsuo and Rui not telling their folks what’s actually troubling them; they make the most obvious assumption based on the little they’ve been given.

Natsuo and Rui reassure their folks they don’t oppose the marriage, but don’t tell them why they ran away from home. They’re back now, and willing to endure one more awkward day with Hina until they set their plan into motion. We’ll see if the show leans more toward their side, even as it’s offered little hints that explain, if not entirely justify, Hina’s behavior.

She likes this guy, wants to be with him, and wants to make it legit by having him divorce. She feels things neither Rui nor Natsuo have ever felt, and thus dismisses their concerns out of hand in addition to looking down on them as simple kids. I wonder if some compromise or middle ground can be found.

Musings:

  • Natsuo’s pal puts the pieces together pretty fast that Hina’s affair is what triggered Rui into sleeping with Natsuo. Rui doesn’t really mind Natsuo telling his friend, as he doesn’t attend their school.
  • I like how we get a little snapshot of Natsuo’s friend’s family life. Everyone wears glasses there, his mom is really nice, and his sister is eager to see him with a girlfriend.
  • That said, Natsuo’s friend’s boss at the cafe was…uh…something.
  • Speaking of parents, Natsuo’s pops and Rui’s mom really are kind and generous people who’d put their happiness aside for their kids’ sake.
  • Who else thought Hina was going to take it further after ripping Natsuo’s shirt open? Yikesy…

Domestic na Kanojo – 02 – Not So Strange After All

When Rui interrupts Natsuo’s kiss, she silently judges him as she roughly drags her sister to her bedroom. In retrospect, kissing an unconscious Hina definitely wasn’t his finest moment, even if it was a kiss meant to put a lid on his crush on her now that they’re step-siblings.

The next day at school, a late, bed-headed Natsuo learns that Rui has transferred to his school, and she’s immediately the talk of the school due to her being cute. Natsuo isn’t clear enough with his words, and gets Rui to think he wants them to act like strangers.

But the mere fact they went off into the courtyard together to have a private chat is suspicious enough to Natsuo’s classmates, who are well aware both he and Rui snuck out of the mixer together. When he meets with Hina, she asks if she kissed him while she was drunk last night, and apologizes in advance if she’s too “relaxed” at home again.

Rui was surrounded by girls in the morning, but by afternoon she’s all alone; Natsuo knows something’s up and has a pretty good idea: Rui is socially awkward, standoffish and fairly tactless. It’s as difficult for her to make and keep friends as it is easy for her big sister.

Natsuo offers to help her by pretending to be a (girl) classmate, and Rui is still her usual self-defeatingly honest self, but the two end up engaged in a dialogue that soon captures the attention of the entire class, who think some kind of skit is going on. Suddenly, Rui doesn’t seem so hard to approach, now that they know who they’re dealing with.

That night, a nude Natsuo predictably walks in on Rui in the bath, but thank goodness for once it doesn’t result in a blood-curdling scream and/or punch. As Rui quite logically points out, there’s nothing he or she haven’t seen before (interesting considering she once said to “forget” their tryst ever happened).

Rather than send him out, Rui calmly invites him in, and it’s Natsuo who hesitates. First of all, she wants to thank him for giving her a helping hand in breaking the ice with her class. But she’s also curious about why he tried to kiss Hina.

At first she dismissed him as an indiscriminate womanizer, but spending the day at school changed her mind about that. So instead, she wonders if he was merely trying to cheer her up in light of her recent boyfriend troubles.

Obviously, Natsuo doesn’t know about Hina’s boyfriend troubles. After the three step-siblings have dinner alone together when their newlywed folks go out for dinner (with Rui emerging as the best cook of the sisters by far), Natsuo brings up the subject, and Hina just as quickly deflects.

In a spot of bad timing, her boyfriend Shuu calls and she goes out to the front of the house to talk to him, insisting Natsuo not go outside with her. Nearly a half-hour later she rushes in, shaking and clearly upset, but still refuses to admit to Natsuo that she’s hurting.

Then there’s a knock at the door and the doorbell rings repeatedly, and both Hina and Natsuo assume its Shuu. Rui ends up the one to get the door, and it’s just their folks, a little tipsy from celebrating their marriage becoming official.

In his first days as stepbrother to both Rui and Hina, Natsuo is already trying to help them with their troubles. Rui will probably be fine with making friends in class, but Hina’s problems will be tougher to tackle, especially since she’s so reluctant to be helped (and she’s well within her rights, as an adult, to not want to seek help from a kid).

Regardless of whether he can help Hina, the fact is Natsuo’s new family and living situation is not nearly as crazy as the initial premise indicated. Whatever he may have done with Rui in the past, and however he feels about Hina, a new and powerful element has been introduced to his relationships with both: he’s unconditionally there for them, and doubtless they’re there for him.