The aquatope on white sand – 07 – Going halfsies

In the first week of August Gama Gama Aquarium is on pace for a goal of 2,000 visitors thanks to the touch pools and shaved ice. But that first week took everything the staff had, plus Udon-chan working for free (and the shaved ice stall still lost money). Kukuru’s gramps orders the youngins to take a day off and spend some time neither working nor thinking about work.

This would, at first glance, seem like the perfect time to show everyone off in their swimsuits, but Aquatope is regionally accurate in the locals of Okinawa not being all that big on swimsuits. Indeed, only Fuuka wears one —the same one in which she had a photo shoot in Tokyo. This makes her very self-conscious, but Kukuru tells her not to worry about it. After all, she does look ridiculously cute.

The ladies meet up with Kai and Kuuya, who have set up a barbecue by the beach, though a little too close to the aquarium than they’d like, considering the goal is to forget about work. We meet Kai’s little sister Maho, who is super polite and formal and takes an instant liking to Fuuka, while hating Kukuru’s (fish) guts.

While I enjoyed Maho’s precocious rivalry with Kukuru, her voice sounded a little bit too much like the other, older women. This was definitely a case where an Ogura Yui or Kuno Misaki would have been a better choice. In any case, only children Kukuru and Udon-chan lament having not had siblings to liven things up.

Ultimately, the pull of Gama Gama proves too strong for Kukuru, who decides to peek in and see how things are going in her absence. She finds Yuuya had the same idea, and overhears him talking with her Gramps about what happens after Gama; namely the very capable and knowledgeable Yuuya taking a job at another aquarium.

The article in the paper is one thing, but hearing her own grandfather talk about the end of Gama Gama like it’s a foregone conclusion when she’s doing everything she possibly can to stave off closure, is understandably (fish) gutting.

In the episode’s finest scene, Kukuru is off on her own on the breakwater when Fuuka finds her. Kukuru breaks down in Fuuka’s lap, saying she’s not sure if she’s “going to be okay.” But without a moment’s hesitation, Fuuka embraces Kukuru and assures her that no matter what happens, she’ll be there with her.

Just when Kukuru was lamenting not having a sibling (and it being heavily implied in flashbacks that she could have had one), Fuuka plays the role of reliable big sister to a T. It’s really great to see how Fuuka has grown since moving to Okinawa, to the point she can be an emotional rock to Kukuru in her more vulnerable moments.

After some nonsense involving Maho’s would-be grade-school boyfriend Rui and Kuuya having a race on the beach, the little kids go home, the older kids break out the booze, and the kids in between wish they could have a beer or lemon highball or three to close out a day of leisure.

We also learn a lot more about Kuuya’s past as a popular and athletic high schooler (and Karin’s classmate) who was sabotaged by the queen bee after he rejected her and was taken in by Kukuru’s gramps. His story is somewhat inelegantly exposited in one go, but it’s still good to learn more about him, why he distrusts women, and how he’s a much looser, more laid back guy when he’s drunk…which tends to be the case with most people.

Speaking of loose and laid back, this is definitely the kind of episode a show can indulge in when it has two cours to work with instead of just one. Even so, this episode wasn’t completely devoid of the burdens Kukuru bears as she must go against virtually everyone’s expectations that Gama Gama is doomed. In fact, this episode hinted that it may just be doomed, and Kukuru is tilting at underwater windmills. But even if that’s so, it’ll be okay…because she’s not alone.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Those Snow White Notes – 01 (First Impressions) – Challenge Issued

AOTS Alert. Repeat, we have an Early AOTS Alert. Those Snow White Notes is an absolute joy to experience from beginning to end. Its absolute banger of a first episode tells a story of inspiration, loss, loneliness, listlessness, self-worth and self-actualization, jealousy, love, and much more—so much it feels like a little self-contained mini-film.

Oh yeah, did I mention it centers around a shamisen player, so the show’s music is supervised by The Yoshida Brothers, in addition to being directed by the fellow who not only gave us the tone-setting first episode of Rakugo Shinjuu, but both seasons of the excellent Master Teaser Takagi-san, of all things? We’re clearly dealing with some talented folks, so it’s amazing it doesn’t feel nearly as pretentious as it should.

A lot of that has to do with how simply and how efficiently the story is laid out and how easily it is to slide into the lives it follows. We start with Sawamura Setsu and his big brother Wakana listening through a cracked door as their grandfather plays to a transfixed crowd. An aside: I’m probably not alone when I say the sound of a well-played shamisen activates my sense of musical awe in addition to my ASMR, resulting in persistent goosebumps every time I hear it…or even think of it!

That said, as soon as the sweet music is over, the warm scene is replaced by a face-slap of a bitter winter scene, in which the Setsu is leaving home. When his gramps died, his “sound” disappeared too, so he’s going “somewhere loud” in hopes he can get it back. He doesn’t know if Tokyo is that place, but he knows he can’t stay home, saying “there’s nothing here anymore.”

We’re only two minutes in, and we’ve already learned so much while being treated to what is the first but hardly the least shamisen number. (It’s also clear I’m going to end up writing way too many words in this review! If only we had an editor around here…)

SWN’s next efficient-yet-effective character portrait is of Tachiki Yuna, an actress/model who is paying the bills with a hostess club job, having to keep smiling and pretending to be happy to be there even after her agency notifies her that she was passed over for a role. After her shift she’s encouraged by her boyfriend Taketo’s texts, and she considers herself fortunate to “have a man who’s talented.”

Yuna happens to be in the bustling streets of Roppongi when Setsu literally bumps into her after getting temporarily dazed by the sheer brightness of the city lights. The two part ways, but Setsu immediately bumps into some less savory characters who start to beat on him. It’s here we learn that Yuna has a heart of gold, as she comes to the Setsu’s rescue with some karate kicks.

After dreaming about his grandfather essentially telling him to stop playing the shamisen if he dies, Setsu wakes up in girly pajamas in Yuna’s cozy apartment, and she cooks the two of them breakfast. Setsu learns that Yuna is a 22-year-old gravure model. Yuna learns Setsu is a Tsugaru shamisen player, but he can’t play for her because he’s “empty inside”, which just happens to be how she’s been feeling lately.

When Wakana hears from Setsu in a letter, he assumes his little brother just went to Tokyo to get laid. But seeing in Setsu a kind of kindred soul, she proposes he continue living with her and doing the housework until he can get his sound back. Before long, a week passes, the longest he’s ever gone without playing since first picking up a shamisen.

Yuna takes Setsu to a restaurant to meet her great and talented boyfriend Taketo along with his band, and Taketo is revealed to be a preening, self-involved jackass who is far beneath Yuna. Setsu intervenes when he sees Taketo trying to extract some serious cash from Yuna to pay for studio he’s renting. He then tells her he’ll be too busy writing music to hang out later that night.

When Yuna and a bandmate have to hold Taketo back, Setsu peaces out, running through the crush of people and noting just how much noisier Tokyo was than a bumpkin like him could have imagined. He gets caught up on a word his gramps used about his sound—”disgraceful”—not because Setsu sucked at shamisen, but because all he ever did was imitate his gramps.

But right here and now Setsu is mad and wants to express it. He wants to play. So he sits down beside the river and plays. Yuna happens to pass by as he’s starting to play, and while he’d later describe the performance as rough and ugly due to the rust of a mere week, but Yuna and I become entranced.

As someone who can only understand between 1-10% of any given spoken Japanese sentence, the language itself is a kind of music, although I know enough words and phrases to know that it isn’t, so it remains separate from the real thing. But pure music like Setsu’s strumming transcends words as it expresses emotions, ideas, and memories of both player and listener.

In Yuna’s case, she’s transported back to her meeting with her agent, who was trying to get her to audition for racier movies and TV. Rightfully insulted by the insinuation she’s nothing but a pretty face and body, she throws a glass of water in his face, and is warned that she won’t go far if she turns such jobs down.

In the midst of listening to Setsu’s raw and angry performance, Yuna takes comfort in knowing even if her career doesn’t amount to anything, at least she has a good man in Taketo. She stops by the good man’s place to find him with having slept with some other woman, to whom she says “you can have him” and leaves as Setsu’s piece comes to a bitter, final note.

When Setsu comes home, Yuna is still awake, and tells him she heard his music. When she did, she realized they’re not alike at all. Setsu isn’t a “sad person with nothing going” for him like she is, and so she can’t help but feel jealous of him. She says she’ll be going away for a while, and asks him to vacate her apartment while she’s gone.

Another day, Setsu encounters Taketo on the street, who is preparing for a concert with his band. Taketo decides to use Setsu as a hostage, telling Yuna he’ll break his arm if she doesn’t show up. For this shitbaggery, Taketo is promptly punished with a Karma Kick from Yuna, coming to Setsu’s rescue once more.

She apologizes for involving Setsu in her drama, but with the wind kicked out of Taketo, she needs to ask for him to be involved a little bit longer. They need someone to go out there and entertain the crowd until the scumbag recovers. Just like that, Setsu finally gets a stage and a crowd on which to test whether he can get his lost sound back. Three guesses as to whether he manages this.

The ensuing powerhouse of a performance by Setsu calls to mind the best music scenes of Your Lie in April, only in this case the crowd was expecting a rock band, not a Tsugaru shamisen player. As he nervously tells the initially confused crowd, he plays “Jongara Bushi”, and as he does, he recalls in black-and-white memories what his grandfather had to say about the peice.

Gramps described the beginning as passionate and hot-blooded, but it starts to calm, grow progressively sadder and heartrending, weakening and waning. He’s basically describing a life. But, unlike a fiery youth who calms down in middle age and eventually withers and passes away, “Jongara” claws its way back, refusing to be beaten down, issues a challenge with its final furious crescendo.

The crowd watches in dead silence, just as Yuna did, and you can’t help but think of what is flashing through their heads while they listen; while they’re being taken on this roller coaster ride of powerful emotions. Just like April, the stage lights illuminate dust motes to give the simultaneous appearance of snow and magical sparkles. Setsu is casting a spell on everyone in that hall with his sound, and not even Taketo can deny its power.

Not only that, but the performance is being live-streamed on the internet, where even if it doesn’t go viral, it’s being watched from home by someone Setsu is sure to meet at some point; perhaps someone who like him has been around shamisen music enough to know that by their standards his performance was just okay. But I’m with Yuna, Taketo, and rest of the crowd: that was fucking awesome.

Also awesome? Yuna doesn’t take Taketo back. They’re done, and he knows he “lost himself a good woman”, even if Yuna would argue that she’s good at anything. Also, while I’m sad to see her go, Yuna does go on her trip to find her…well, not sound, but I guess to find what it is she can contribute to the world and feel good about it. Modeling and porn were decidedly not those things, but I hope the show won’t lose sight of her journey.

Setsu continues to live in her apartment after she leaves, but Taketo tends to come by a lot, so it’s clear that while he’s an asshole, he and Setsu will probably continue to interact with each other, if not outright befriend each other. While Setsu has the kettle on, he recalls walking Yuna to the train station, gives him a kiss before pushing him away and boarding the train with a final wave goodbye. Assuring him that whatever girl he ends up with “will be very happy”.

Back at her apartment, Taketo says that Setsu seems most alive when he’s playing, but if the shamisen is what gives him life, then sooner or later that world will “drag him in.” Taketo is hitting the nail on the head when their talk is abruptly interrupted by the most ridiculous occurrence in the episode: on the snap of a woman’s fingers, the door to Yuna’s apartment is forced open, a smoke bomb goes off, and two SWAT officers flank a glamorous woman with silver hair, blue eyes, and an April O’Neil jacket.

She’s here for Setsu, whom she calls “Baby-chan”, and Setsu calls her Umeko, but I know from the initial description of the show that this is his mom…who it’s immediately clear is a lot. Looks like however much of his sound Setsu believes he’s found in Tokyo, Umeko will have an unnegotiable say in his life…at least as long as he’s still a kid.

Talk about a mood-changing, enticing record-scratch of an ending! And it’s followed by an end theme that positively slaps: Miliyah Katou’s Kono Yume ga Sameru made, featuring the Yoshida Brothers. This was an opening episode that scratched all of my itches and then some. If you’re tired of my incessant gushing, go give it a watch yourself! I for one am probably going to go watch it again!

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 02 – Switching Gears

When I first saw Shinako’s new shorter hairstyle, my mind momentarily went to competing with Haru, but that’s far to simplistic, and was immediately swatted down as a motivation when her silhouette in the barber’s chair is set against an austere blossoming cherry tree. There’s another reason, perhaps related to moving forward (or at least appearing to do so).

This week marks the introduction of the fourth member of the love polygon: Hayakawa Rou, who is in love with Shinako, his older childhood friend. Turns out he’s transferring to her school and may even end up in her class. Again, my immediate reaction was well, he and Haru are both high-school age, they’d be perfect together and the adults could go do their thing. But again, that’s making things way too easy for the parties involved!

It’s striking how much more vivid the colors are this week than last, but hey, trees blossoming in the spring will do that (indeed, it’s happening right outside my window and it’s wonderful!). It turns out Shinako doesn’t much like cherry blossoms. But after her post-graduation faculty after-party (she doesn’t attend he after-after party) she still takes some time to sit among the blossoms for a spell.

Her alone time is interrupted by Rikuo, and Shinako uses the opportunity to tell him she knows she’s asking a lot by wanting to remain just friends. But despite Rikuo’s belief she’s forward-thinking, Shinako reveals she’s nothing of the sort. If anything, she’s just good at making it look like she’s moving forward, when it’s more like walking in circles.

Then Haru walks by after her shift at the bar, assumes she interrupted something romantic, and runs off home in a mild huff. If that wasn’t enough, Rou also witnesses the tail end of Rikuo and Shinako’s talk. That’s…a lot of coincidences!

The next day, while Rikuo is discussing the potential difficulties of friendzoning with Kinoshita, Rou shows up and demands to know who Shinako is to Rikuo. At practically the same time, Haru shows up after school to have a chat with Shinako, offering dango as an olive branch.

Despite that olive branch, Haru is here to do battle, and not on an empty stomach. She wants to hear who Rikuo is to Shinako, and Shinako is quite clear that all they’ll ever be is good friends. Haru isn’t satisfied with this, because she doesn’t want to be a “compromise” Rikuo is nudged towards by Shinako.

When Shinako asks what exactly Haru likes about Rikuo, she doesn’t have a good answer beyond her belief that love is “a trick of the mind” that demands a beginning, a middle, and some kind of conclusion, be it good or bad. That’s when Shinako tells Haru she can’t be more than friends with Rikuo because there’s someone she already loves…or rather loved.

Rou mentions it to Rikuo as well: Shinako keeps a flame burning for his older brother, who died six years ago of a heart condition. Shinako took care of him until his death, which occurred during…the cherry blossoms. When most people see rebirth and the future in them, Shinako sees death and a past she can’t let go of.

Rou’s brother’s death wasn’t the “conclusion” Haru said is needed to stop that “trick of the mind” that is love. Shinako’s love endures, superceding any other opportunities (i.e. Rikuo). Even so, Haru still decides to declare war on Shinako, and will prepare for anything, including Shinako coming around with Rikuo. Having heard about Rou’s brother, Rikuo waits by Shinako’s place to talk to her, but can’t properly organize his thoughts and starts to walk away.

Shinako, for her part, is sorry she never brought the brother up, but didn’t want to use him as an excuse to reject him. Then the two decide it would be best if they weren’t friends anymore, due to the significant imbalance in effort. He’d rather wait than be friends, indicating he hasn’t given up on her (and why it was wise for Haru to declare war). Shinako is relieved…but hates that she is.

So far I’m liking this fairly brisk pace of events. Less wallowing and introspection, more communication and firm decisions. Rikuo is still being shamefully dense about Haru’s intentions—though he may yet be justified in doing so.

The progress made this week was worth the occasionally questionable coincidences. I also like how this takes place in the 90s, where the cassette is king and there are no cell phones, necessitating more face-to-face interaction. And both the animation and voice acting are terrific. It may not be the happiest story, but I’m in my happy place.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 01 (First Impressions) – Fine the Way They Are

When I visited Tokyo, I’d always naturally wake up very early in the morning, when the only people up were crows and convenience store clerks. One of those clerks could have been a guy like Uozumi Rikuo, who feeds the crows rejected bentos on his break. He’s approached by a cute young lady named Haru (Miyamoto Yume) who has a pet crow named Kansuke and a pointed interest in him, though he internally dismisses her as eccentric.

Rikuo just isn’t sure what to do with the energy Haru provides in that brief moment in the early morn, because he’s been in low-energy mode since graduating from university. He never engaged in any serious job hunting, and seems resigned, if not content, with a modest existence in a modest apartment with a modest part-time job. His former classmate Fukuda informs him of their upcoming six-month reunion, and also that Morinome Shinako (Hanazawa Kana), with whom Rikuo was good friends, is back in town teaching high school.

Rikuo skips the reunion, but Shinako comes to him at the konbini, and she waits at nearby a family restaurant until after his shift. There, the two pleasantly catch up, and visit their old stomping grounds. Rikuo admits he’s become what most in the world would call a failure, due to not living up to his potential and education. Shinako doesn’t judge, deeming him more “someone who needs taking care of” rather than “working his ass off in a suit”.

Shinako pops by more so the two can walk and talk after work. Rikuo’s co-worker assumes he’s some kind of smooth operator to have the attention of such a “mystery beauty”, on top of the quirky-cute Haru—who definitely gives off a mild MPDG vibe. One night the two women cross paths, and Rikuo learns Haru was once in Shinako’s class, but dropped out after being suspended for working at a bar.

While chatting in the park Haru makes it clear she comes to the store to see him, and that they met before. When he can’t recall, she tells him it was a momentary exchange five years ago. She’s harbored a crush on him ever since, but considers all relationships “illusions” anyway.


After getting a frank but salient lecture from an amateur punk rocker co-worker (of all people!) about being so self-deprecating and keeping the stakes of his life so low as to avoid getting hurt. Rikuo knows that while he can’t lose anything going through life like that, he can’t gain anything either. So he decides to breaks that pattern of behavior (for once) by meeting Shinako outside her house and confessing his feelings…and promptly gets shot down. Shinako just wants to be friends.

Rikuo urges himself to buck up—after all, he just did something he should have done before graduation—but still crashes his bike, and has himself a little weep in the pile of garbage bags that broke his cushioned his fall. The next day he reports having “closed the book on an illusion”, lamenting that while he attempted a “personal transformation”, it didn’t get him anywhere.

Haru can relate. As she talks about how she lives her life he realizes they’re alike; self-professed “social outcasts” who tell lies to escape hurt. In meeting Rikuo, Haru suddenly wanted to be liked, though now that she’s aware of his feelings for Shinako perhaps that’s no longer a viable escape. Even so, Rikuo snaps a photo of her for his co-worker’s album cover, and Haru beams at the camera.

Yesterday wo Utatte’s a wonderful realistic portrait of grown-ups looking at what they should do and not. Its detailed, lived-in atmosphere draws you in and envelops you. It can be melancholy and brooding at times—okay, most of the time—but that’s balanced by moments of brightness and warmth like that smile that closes out the episode. Haru calls it “basic” but it wasn’t 100% insincere.

After years of losing nothing, Rikuo and Haru have gained something valuable: a new friendship and understanding. Will they be able to give each other the courage to move forward, or at least pick a direction and go, or just hurt each other more than they already are? I’m eager to see how this shakes out.

Net-juu no Susume – 03

Sakurai receives a reply from Morioka first thing in the morning, and he looks nervous, but also excited. We later learn that it’s a gentle and respectful decline on his offer of dinner out of a misplaced sense of not wanting to “cause any more trouble” after he did so much for her post-elbowing. But it’s pretty clear Sakurai wants “trouble” from Morioka. Why offer dinner in the first place?

When he does research on her career at a prestigious Bussan, he learns both from his own research and his co-worker Koiwai (who interacted with before) that Morioka was an exemplary employee and businessperson…who suddenly resigned. A old photo of her confirms she’s the one he accidentally knocked over.

Perhaps he’ll learn, as we have, that despite being damn good at her job, it just wasn’t something she wanted to do anymore. She wants to be a NEET and play MMOs now, and if she can afford to, who’s to say she can’t?

I’ll say, from the perfect structure and syntax of her text message to Sakurai, Morioka’s business skills probably haven’t dulled that much. She’s a talented, capable woman. But she does get a bit nervous in any kind of social situations, which is why after sending her reply, Morioka feels as though a great weight has been lifted from her shoulders, and she goes out to buy some snacks, some beer, and some extra points for FdM.

There, she quickly receives a gift from Lily – a super-expensive coat, and wonders what the underlying purpose of the gift was, considering it will be hard to reciprocate considering its cost. Lily is briefly taken aback by the, well, accusation of ulterior motives, but cannot entirely plead innocence. In fact, she’s come to feel a deep connection for Hayashi and wants him to be her partner in the game.

It’s a big step, and even though it may be a while before Sakurai and Morioka connect the dots on who each other are in the real world, it’s a good sign that they’re growing close enough in-game that a truth-revealing real-world meetup won’t be out of the question down the road. Of course, Morioka needs to realize that she’s not the only one using an avatar of the opposite sex.

NjS is getting better and better as we spend more time with “Mori-Mori” and “Sakura-chan;” particularly their moments of victory and elation when things go well for them. The narrative method of switching between worlds rather than going “full-dive” (ala SAO, NGNL, or KonoSuba) also tethers the story and makes it feel more real. It’s a great balance other shows with similar themes lacked. The music’s pretty bangin’, too.

Net-juu no Susume – 02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Net-juu no Susume – 01 (First Impressions)

After a super-catchy OP, we meet 30-year-old corporate dropout and “elite NEET” Morioka Moriko. Being a NEET, she has a lot of time on her hands, but her old go-to MMO, Nanter SG, is no longer available. She checks out a new one, Fruits de Mer, which she choses to play with a male avatar, Hayashi. When she fails again and again to defeat a rodent boss in a dungeon, a cute mage Lily comes to Hayashi’s aid, and Moriko is instantly smitten.

Moriko’s inexperience with interpersonal relationships (particularly romantic ones) is exposed in her dealings with Lily, who takes a liking to Hayashi as well, but Moriko starts avoiding her in order to collect a rare item to give her for Christmas—inadvertently making Lily feel alone and like she did something to make Hayashi avoid her.

Lily confides in Hime, a fellow guild member, and the guildmaster manages to discuss the issue with Hayashi, who never meant to hurt Lily. They meet in a tree and arrange a Christmas Eve date. In the real world, Moriko is out of food, and must venture out to the convenience store at the worst possible time: when it’s full of happy couples.

In that very same store, we meet the player who controls the Lily avatar, and like Moriko, he chose to play as the opposite sex. They both ask for the store’s last piece of Christmas chicken, but the guy yields it to Moriko after hearing her stomach’s “jingle bells.”

Aside from seeing from the in-game cash card she’s buying that she’s also a player of Fruits de Mer, neither the guy nor Moriko know they just cross paths with each other in real life, but when they meet as Hayashi and Lily, you couldn’t ask for a lovelier, more mirthful scene as they exchange gifts.

Having come so close to meeting once, I can’t help but hope Hayashi and Lily meet in the real world in earnest. After all, while both seem content spending their free time playing an MMO and meeting virtual friends, there’s an overarching sense of profound loneliness wafting off the two of them.

Moriko claims to have chosen to be a NEET, and was clearly put off by the couples in the store. But couples tend to be most annoying until you actually find yourself in one. I for one am glad to see an MMO-themed anime that actually spends time in both worlds, rather than just the fantasy one.