Tomo-chan Is a Girl! – 04 – Shooting You Down With a Smile

Tanabe wants to see Misuzu smile, but Jun sees her smile all the time. It’s just her sadistic smile; the pure smile Tanabe imagines doesn’t exist. But true to her acerbic self, Misuzu gets Tanabe stop fooling around and approach her seriously. She then promises to shoot him down with a smile, one of many great lines uttered with sardonic perfection by Hidaka Rina.

Misuzu also isn’t all that into a lot of physical contact with friends, but Tomo watches other female classmates glomping and embracing and wants a piece. Carol offers herself as Tomo’s hugging partner first, and the feel and smell of her has Tomo briefly wondering if she’s a guy after all; Misuzu simply assures her “that one’s made special.”

After hugging Mifune and Ogawa (and giving them similar feelings as she got hugging Carol) Tomo notices that Misuzu is mad; she knows the very subtle changes in her expression, as well as her change in aura. Carol, who has been constantly clinging to Tomo, suspects she’s to blame, and apologizes by slamming her forehead against Misuzu’s desk. Misuzu then  finally lets the former gather her into her ample bosom, and they make up.

This leads to Misuzu asking Tomo if she’s tried glomping onto Jun; lord knows he isn’t shy about initiating contact. When she tries it, he pulls her off, and I thought for a minute Tomo was going to fall (and need Jun to swoop in and catch her). But she regains her balance, because she’s a jock! I liked that little detail. Jun declaring that he can initiate contact but she can’t earns him a well-deserved right hook!

Jun once again asserts his long-standing familiarity by being in Tomo’s room when she wakes up the next morning (her mom let him in). This leads to a big loud fight that wakes her mom. Tomo then makes breakfast for Jun: rice balls filled with dried sardines for strong bones. Jun’s reaction suggests they taste…interesting, but he still eats every bite.

In the dojo, Tomo’s dad demonstrates how he can still pass out from lovesickness at the sight of his wife. But in a nice scene with Tomo and Jun, she says that her dad has and will always protect her mom no matter what.

Back at school, Carol and Misuzu tell Tomo they are having lunch without her, so she has an awkward lunch alone with Jun. In addition to wanting to supplant Tomo as Misuzu’s #1 best friend, Carol also wants to show Misuzu firsthand what she’s dealing with in regards to the guy she likes.

That guy is Misaki, and Carol’s problem is he doesn’t see her as a girl or potential mate, but as a little sister due to their long history together. Misuzu suggests Carol “take life more seriously” if she wants to succeed with Misaki. Fat chance of that!

In the final segment, Mifune and Ogawa come to Tomo with boy problems. Specifically, like, a Don Juan-type upperclassman has his eyes on Ogawa, and like, won’t take no for an answer? Tomo agrees to be with her when she turns him down. When he fails to act in a gentleman-like fashion, Tomo lays him the fuck out with a thunderous kick to the solar plexus.

The girls warn her that the guy has four equally unsavory buddies, but Tomo coolly promises that she’ll deal with all comers, and won’t hesitate to protect them, before striding away like a badass. Mifune and Ogawa can only swoon.

The five pricks never get a chance to exact any kind of revenge on Tomo, because Jun overhears them plotting to go after her, and delivers a very similar kick to the leader’s chest that Tomo scored. We don’t see him fight the other four, but when all five of them approach Tomo, it’s to prostrate themselves and apologize.

On their walk home together, Tomo wonders why they did that, and why the four she never met were already beat up, and why Jun has a bandage on his cheek. He says he “fell”, but we know he was inspired by what she said about her dad protecting her mom, and wanted to do the same for Tomo. Even if, like Tomo’s mom, she probably didn’t need help!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tomo-chan Is a Girl! – 03 – Youthful Indiscretion

Naturally, Tomo is shocked and feels betrayed by the fact she’s only now hearing about Jun and Misuzu going out. Misuzu only kept it from her because she herself preferred if it never happened. Jun asked her out on a whim, and they dated for a grand total of three days. I’m also convinced Misuzu calls it “youthful indiscretion” since that was practically Hidaka Rina’s character Yume’s catchphrase in My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex.

We also learn that Jun avoided Tomo for the entire first year of middle school, and they didn’t reconnect as best buds until he’d dumped Misuzu. Like her, I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It’s likely that Jun asked Misuzu out because he was trying to avoid the fact that he had developed a thing for Tomo, and wasn’t ready to deal with that.

It’s become ever clearer that Tomo is not the best judge of whether Jun sees her as a girl, since the moment Jun learns that she’s in the boy’s karate club, he freaks out, and is particularly hostile towards Misaki. The two end up bonding (somewhat) on a bus ride when Jun admits that in a fight with rules like karate, he can’t beat Tomo either; she’s “too incredible”.

The next day after school, Jun asks if Tomo is free to hang, but she has plans with Misuzu and Carol to get tea. She runs into Ogawa and Mifune, who are harboring some very confusing feelings about Tomo and are so shocked by the sight of her in pants that they flee. Misuzu warns Tomo that she can’t keep blowing him off, and shouls arrange a date.

Tomo is dubious that Jun will be as pliant as Misuzu predicts, but when she does take the initiative and ask if he’ll hang, his reaction is just like that of a golden retriever who found out he’s going on walkies. Misuzu and Carol decide on the best outfit for Tomo, one that’s a bit girlier than her usual garb, but not so girly she’ll be too self-conscious.

The resulting white pullover, gaucho pants, and white sneakers ensemble really hit the mark, though Jun doesn’t let Tomo know how cute she looks, the swine. What he does do is let the two of them slide right back into their normal hangout routines: going to the batting cages and bowling. Each time, Tomo is certain she can’t hit a 160 kph fastball or roll a 16 pound ball, but in both cases, she’s still right on Jun’s level.

She then asks Jun if they can go to karaoke, and immediately acts like he said know when he actually said yes, leaving Tomo in a bit of a spot, as she hadn’t thought any further than “going to karaoke.” The place is a lot more intimate than she expected, and since the only songs she knows are children’s songs, that’s what she sings … and Jun records her.

The thing is, he’s not recording for blackmail purposes (though the minute Misuzu and Carol hear he has footage of her singing they want it). He was thrown off how…different Tomo was that day. But not thrown off in a bad way. Clearly it’s a side of Tomo he’d like to see a little more of.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tomo-chan Is a Girl! – 02 – Enemies Becoming Friends

When Tomo boards a bus with Jirou and sits right beside him, the closeness makes her heart race too much, so she stands, bitter that he doesn’t conside her a girl enough to be equally flusterd. However, he shows he’s very much aware she’s a girl when he spots a pervert groping her and puts a stop to it.

Unfortunately for Tomo, his solution is for her to stop wearing skirts, because they “look wrong” on her. What Jirou isn’t sharing with Tomo is that the reason it looks “wrong” is because Jirou is still uncomfortable with his “best bud” being a woman—especially one with legs to the damn moon!

After slugging Jirou, Tomo reports this injustice to Misuzu the next day. She determines that the problem isn’t the skirt, but the bike shorts underneath. She tells Tomo that the key to a skirt is basically the reality that there’s nothing but underwear underneath. In other words, no half-measures allowed.

Misuzu arranges for Tomo to walk home with Jirou (who is eager to make up), but without the bike shorts. Misuzu’s original observation that the skirt is simply too short to wear on its own without errant winds rendering her unmentionables visible. It’s doubly a shame this happens during an otherwise romantic sakura-strewn sunset stroll.

They later make up again, with Jirou rightfully apologizing for presuming he can tell Tomo what to wear. That said, he doesn’t think she should wear anything she doesn’t feel comfortable in. But as we see from his version of a blush, the main reason he’d rather Tomo wear slacks is because he’s just not ready for those endless gams.

The second part of the episode introduces Carol Olston, a blonde student from Britain. Half of the boys in class are in her thrall, while the other half prefer Misuzu’s cool beauty—we know Jirou is interested in neither. She’s also voiced by Sally Amaki, who is bilingual, so I was a little disappointed she didn’t have any English lines.

Carol is introduced to Tomo via Misaki, and Carol is quick to declare that she and Misaki are engaged and have in face already been married three times. Misaki clarifies that they’re childhood friends, hence all the weddings, but it’s clear Carol considers their engagement legally binding—and views Tomo as an enemy who might steal her Misaki away.

This is only half-true and half-nonsense; the latter because Tomo doesn’t like Misaki that way and has eyes only for Jirou, and the former because Misaki does seem to have a little thing for Tomo. In any case, Carol is sharper than her cotton candy looks and ditzy affectation suggest.

When Tomo reports her encounter with Misuzu, it’s plain as day to Misuzu why Carol keeps calling her a baaaka. Then Carol gathers intel on Tomo by speaking to both Misuzu and Jirou, demonstrating her genral oddness by sitting on Misuzu’s desk and hiding in Jirou’s locker.

Carol ends up hiring Jirou to help get her into shape “to defeat an enemy”, but on the surface, and unbeknownst to him, it totally looks like the two are going steady. Tomo is genuinely freaked out by this, and Misuzu, shit-stirrer that she is, sucks up all that sweet sweet energy.

Watching Carol utterly fail to run more than ten feet or do even one push-up or sit-up is amusing, but not as hilarious as a distracted Tomo unknowingly and lazily turning Misaki—who is likely no slouch, karate-wise—into a pretzel.

Misuzu egged Tomo on to confront Jirou and Carol partly for her own amusement, but also because she wants Tomo to display more urgency in trying to win Jirou over, which means defending her claim to him.

But when she does confront the two, it only takes a moment for Carol to read Tomo’s reactions and conclude that she is absolutely no threat to her vis-a-vis Misaki, as she’s only interested in Jirou.

That afternoon, Carol invites Misuzu out for coffee and cake in what Misuzu calls an “unnecessarily long car” as thanks for her advice. Carol confides that she doesn’t have a single friend, so Misuzu suggests she reach out to Tomo, who will surely be glad to have her as one.

The next day Carol thinks about all the times her open hand of friendship was rejected by those who thought she was too pretty, or too rich, or too weird. But just as Misuzu said, Tomo welcomes Carol’s friendship, and thus appears to her like an angel. Misuzu also agrees to be Carol’s friend, because Carol is loaded, and can likely also help her in even more complex and entertaining schemes to make Tomo and Jirou squirm!

Speaking of, the episode ends with Tomo learning for the first time that Jirou and Misuzu briefly dated years ago, which not only explains their cool-yet-close attitude towards one another, but also draws another parallel between Hidaka Rina’s Misuzu and her character Yume from My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 23 – Super Sakurasawa Practice Partner Part III

All Hail Sumi, High Queen of the Andals and the Rhoynar Rental Girlfriends. She has Chizuru ask Kazuya if he’ll spend another day with her under the pretense of a “practice date”. In truth, we know Sumi has big birthday plans for Kazuya, and this is a part of that. Also, she’s clearly crushing on the guy. She even wears a school uniform because she thinks he’s into that!

At first the date has an almost breathless pace to it, such that Kazuya and Sumi both are short on breath, but perhaps that’s Sumi’s way of making sure she stays ahead of her jackhammering heart. Unfortunately, watching Kazuya totally geek out over marine life is all too endearing for her.

When she miscalculates the distance to sit for the dolphin show and they get soaked, she feels down for failing as the guide on their date, but Kazuya sweetly lifts that burden by telling her he’s having fun and getting wet is part of the fun of a dolphin show. He also offers her his shirt, as her blouse has gone see-through.

Sumi simply brings out the best in everyone she’s around, Kazuya included. It’s easy to label her a cutie pie, but that label belies an iron strength of will that allows her to cut through her shyness and taciturnity and present her crush with a birthday gift: a hand-knit hat. That same willpower has her grasping Kazuya’s hand when she knows something’s troubling him and tells him he can tell her.

He does, and unloads about Chizuru (without using her name) and how he’s distraught that he can’t do anything about the pain she’s clearly in. It turns out to be a major cathartic moment for Kazuya, as both he and Sumi simply hold hands and cry it out at a spot in Odaiba with a view of Rainbow Bridge.

That extended cry is something he’s never shared with the other girls, and leads to him having a eureka moment at episode’s end about what to do for Chizuru. Naturally, I feel awful that Sumi’s feelings will ultimately be unrequited, and AS next week’s episode is the last, we might not see her at all. But like all good things, it’s best to just enjoy a Sumi date while it lasts. And hopefully it’s spurred Kazuya to finally take some decisive action.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 22 – More than a Lie

Kazuya probably feels like Ruka’s kiss, complete with tongue and the requisite saliva strings, lasted the entire week between the last episode and this one. But Ruka felt threatened by Chizuru and didn’t want to lose, so she marked her man. She also hastens to notify Kazuya that it was her first kiss, and despite the saying that the first taste like strawberries or lemons, hers just tasted like booze.

A frankly obscene amount of Kazuya inner dialogue ensues as he tries to deal with having been wall-slammed and made out with by Ruka only to have to return to the table with his mom, grandma, and Chizuru, who can all tell something’s off about both of them. Gran then produces her gift to Chizuru: her heirloom engagement ring. Chizuru says she couldn’t possibly accept it, as one does, but Gran and Kazuya’s mom insist.

Having seen how backed in a corner and desperate Ruka is and seeing Chizuru struggle, Kazuya decides he’s going to come clean, right then and there, or at least say what needs to be said to shatter the charade. Both Ruka and Chizuru can tell he’s about to say something to the effect of “Chizuru and I broke up”, but before he can get the works out, Chizuru gets a call…from the hospital.

Her gran is unconscious, so she, Kazuya, and Kazuya’s gran take a taxi to the hospital, where they find Chizuru’s gran not unconscious, and her usual tough, cheerful self. The grans have fun talking about their young grandkids, and when the doctor asks Chizuru to come with him to talk, she leaves them in Kazuya’s care in a very relationship-y way.

After torturing Kazuya a bit, the grans send him to a konbini for snacks, and he meets Chizuru in the dark corridor, where she tells him that things aren’t great, and despite her smiles and laughs she doesn’t have much time left. Kazuya asks if she’s okay, and she puts on a brave front. When he heads to the hospital room to finish coming clean and making things right, Chizuru grabs his sleeve and tells him not to.

She knows her gran is worried about her being along when she’s gone, so telling her she and Kazuya broke up on her deathbed simply isn’t something she’s willing to do.  I don’t think she’s using this as a pretense to remain in…whatever it is she and Kazuya have.

But when she says that whatever is now “more than a lie”, it feels like she’s saying that more for just her gran’s sake. She and Kazuya head home and go their separate ways, and Kazuya curses himself for not being able to do more for her, while also finding himself in a spot where revealing the truth will cause more harm than good.

That said, the lie is still doing harm to Ruka, but when she and Kazuya go on a grammable pancake date, she shows genuine empathy when she asks about Chizuru and her gran. She also decides to call a truce, as with Chizuru’s family situation it’s just not an appropriate time to continue her “offensive”.

That said, she’s now convinced that now that they’ve had their first kiss, they can now kiss whenever. Kazuya’s not so sure about that. He’s also even more flummoxed that not only Chizuru but also Ruka have decided that the status quo should be maintained until further notice. And that’s even before he’s aware of whatever it is best girl Sumi is planning to celebrate his birthday…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 21 – Scents of Hokkaido

It’s time for the annual family birthday party Kazuya’s grandmother and parents always throw for him, and when he informs gran that her beloved Chizuru’s birthday has already passed, she hits him with an air-to-grandson cruise missile of anger and then insists that he invite Chizuru to a shared party.

Kazuya invites Chizuru to the shindig on their balconies, and while she can’t make the 5 PM time, she can come later, after she visits her ailing gran in the hospital. Shortly thereafter, Ruka calls Kazuya to wish him a happy birthday, and catches wind of the party. That afternoon she shows up all dolled up, ready to join the party.

Since Kazuya’s fam knows Ruka as “Chizuru’s friend” it’s not that strange that she shows up with him, and Ruka is quite right that however Kazuya feels for Ruka, he did agree to be her boyfriend (rather than reject her) and making her cover for him and Chizuru isn’t fair.

Thus ensues a wonderfully lively sitcom scenario where conceits like the fact Ruka’s yelling at Kazuya in the kitchen can’t be heard by the fam in the next room. Ruka sees she’s started out with a deficit, imagining a virtual Reversi game of who can be the best future daughter/granddaughter.

But Ruka has no shortage of charm, and quickly ingratiates herself with Kazuya’s fam. This sucks for him in terms of maintaining the fiction of him and Chizuru for his gran’s sake, but it also shows a nice what-if if only he had genuine romantic feelings for Ruka rather than Chizuru…things would go pretty smoothly!

Instead, Ruka comes within mere seconds of telling Kazuya’s fam that she’s his actual girlfriend when he’s saved by a text from Chizuru asking what’s up. Kazuya sucks it up and adds her as a friend, then calls her on her personal line—unthinkable in the first season, but accepted as a necessity here.

When she says she’s still at the hospital, Kazuya does what’s right and tells her she doesn’t have to come, but then a jealous Ruka rips the phone out of his hand and demonstrates to Chizuru that it really is a good idea to show herself before things get messy.

I totally get Ruka’s anger, but if her goal was to keep Chizuru away from the fam tonight, her rant to Chizuru had the opposite effect. Chizuru surprises Kazuya’s fam by showing up and immediately being her perfect professional girl self, even asking to pray at the family shrine, something Ruka didn’t even think of.

As Kazuya’s gran learns he and Chizuru live in the same area (but not that they’re next-door neighbors) she asks why they don’t just live together, Chizuru blushes and says she’d lean on him too much. Ruka spots the lipstick on Chizuru’s glass and heads to the bathroom without saying anything.

When Kazuya heads to the bathroom, Ruka, who is getting absolutely slaughtered by Chizuru out there, decides to resort to drastic (and readily available) measures, i.e. her lips. She gets on her toes, pulls Kazuya in by the goofy gaudy tie she bought him for his birthday, and gives him a long lasting smooch.

It’s given all the weight of a climactic romantic development, but lest we forget, at this moment Kazuya simply likes Chizuru more, and the fact the two of them can call and text each other whenever constitutes Reversi discs that can’t be flipped back over.

This episode featured some fun and genuinely funny girlfriends-family sitcom action, but also made me hope that at some point before this cour is out we get some kind of legitimate development towards untangling some of the romantic knots Kazuya has made. I realize I may be setting myself up for disappointment, but it’s always nice to dream.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 20 – The Best Day Ever, Every Time

This episode begins, amazingly, with Kazuya talking on the phone with his actual ostensible girlfriend, Ruka, who is clearly loving every minute of their convo and would happily chat with him for hours. She also shows a bit of maturity by apologizing for her outburst towards Mami, whom we see is still trying to tweetstalk his gran.

When a day Chizuru is free for a date arrives, Kazuya decides to mix things up a bit and fulfill an adolescent dream of his: going on a date with a girl in their high school uniforms. Chizuru doesn’t know about this dream and so wonders why he’s wearing a uniform, but like so much with Kazuya, she rolls with it.

Since he insisted she act like herself for their dates, the ensuing date at TDC (Tokyo Dome City) feels considerably less forced and artificial. This is doubly true to to the fact it’s quite clear Chizuru enjoys being on a date with Kazuya under the guise of a professional transaction. It gives her cover from feelings she clearly harbors but isn’t ready to parse.

And that’s fine! After all, the guy she often finds herself blushing about is still in a state of denial himself. Such is his self-esteem, he is constantly holding Chizuru up on a pedestal she never asked for. Yes, she’s lovely, but his adoration goes way too far. Forget high school, he’s acting like a middle schooler most of the time.

Kazuya’s date plan of holding hands, sharing food, photo booth, and Ferris wheel all goes swimmingly. But he’s so worried about doing or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, he barely takes the time to simply exist and enjoy the time he’s actually having with this other human being.

As I said, besides the school uniforms, what makes this otherwise fairly rote date episode refreshing is how Chizuru isn’t being overly lovey-dovey or flowery. She knows she doesn’t need to be; that just being herself is fine with Kazuya, both as a rental customer…and as a friend. Indeed, he’s one of very few people in her life she can be herself with, and as such, his presence is comforting, even when he’s being a complete spazz.

Just as Kazuya and Ruka have some genuine conversation on the phone earlier in the episode, it’s also nice to see him and Chizuru just shooting the breeze about her job, and how she’s come to love the job she’s so good at. Since he knows about her dream of becoming an actor, she also tells him how she’s got a role in another play.

She’s clearly as happy to have someone to tell this as Kazuya is to hear it. He’s so happy for her and how her hard work is paying off, he briefly holds her hand a bit too tight. When booking the date, he discovered that Chizuru ranked up from Rookie to Regular, which not only cost more, but only increased his adoration of her.

But for as unattainable as he continues to believe her to be, and as loathsome as he considers himself to be, if I had to guess what Chizuru wanted, it isn’t someone who will worship the ground she walks on, but walks on that ground beside her as an equal. Heck, it’s pretty much what he already has with Sumi.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 19 – Thing of the Past

Kazuya wakes up with the mother of all hangovers, but also an odd fuzzy memory of Chizuru having taken care of him last night. He’s not sure if it’s just a fantasy, but what is real is that he was invited to a chat group that includes Chizuru’s private contact (not the Rental GF one he has and cannot use when not renting her).

He stops himself from adding her as a friend as it would send her a notification, but fantasy and reality once again collide in his booze-addled brain when he finds an energy drink in his fridge with a hand-written note from Chizuru (reading “Drunkard!”) that proves she was indeed there. We also cut to Chizuru also contemplating hitting the “add a friend” button for Kazuya.

To me, all this means that Kazuya and Chizuru want to and probably should start acting like the neighbors and good friends they so clearly are, only their personal hangups and the fact Kazuya is always renting her services keep things cloudy and complicated. This week also reminds us that Ruka is technically his actual girlfriend, and at work she checks in with him on whether he’s ready to make them “official.”

Kazuya is saved by a customer arriving at the otherwise-deserted parlor, but that customer turns out to be Mami, who heard from Kibe that he was working here and decided to stop by and mess with him (she says she’s kidding, but she isn’t). Her plans are utterly stymied by the presence of Ruka.

After Kazuya tries to sidestep Mami’s and Ruka’s curiosity towards one another, Mami is simply too friendly to Kazuya for Ruka to remain silent and professional. She grabs Kazuya and makes it clear that they’re dating, then embellishes things by claiming they’ve gone all the way, and basically condemns Mami as his ex for coming by his work at all.

Mami has her knowledge of Chizuru as a rental girlfriend loaded, and decides to use it, but it misfires, as Ruka is not only aware but seemingly okay with it? Mami retreats for now, if not defeated, utterly bewildered by what the heck is going on with her ex. Ruka ends up in tears over the ordeal, and Kazuya can only sit and wait for her to cry it out.

Note, Kazuya is not to be sympathized with here—all of this is his doing, and if he were honest to Ruka about not having feelings for her, they wouldn’t be in this unsustainable “half-relationship” that is so easily threatened by a passing ex. If anything, I sympathize with Mami, who on one occasion asks herself why she’s wasting her time even thinking about Kazuya and his palace of lies.

The answer the show implies is that as much as she doesn’t want to admit it, she’s not over the guy. I prefer the interpretation that she’s infected by the same brain worms as Chizuru and Ruka, which beyond all logic and reason render Kazuya a halfway tolerable presence. (Sumi, the best girl, is either immune or not infected due to how rarely she and Kazuya interact.)

Speaking of Chizuru, she returns at the end of the episode boarding the same train as Mami, and a deeply awkward train ride ensues, with Mami being not subtle at all about the concept of obtaining items while they’re as new as possible lest they fall out of fashion. On the surface, she’s talking about Chizuru’s bag, which Mami identifies as having been in Kazuya’s apartment that one night.

Because Mami cannot for whatever reason stop thinking about Kazuya, the gears in her brain continue to churn late into the night, as she attempts, like a private eye, to piece together Kazuya’s intricate galaxy of stupidity. While Ruka’s account is locked, Mami finds Kazuya’s grandma, and decides to follow her in hopes of gathering more intel.

From Yuuki Aoi’s half-bored, half-threatening, alway mocking sing-song lilt to the design of her disheveled hair and dead eyes, Mami is always portrayed as a potential chaos-spreading force, and the show seems more often than not to side with Kazuya and the others over her, as if she were reaping what she sowed by dumping Kazuya before fully realizing how she felt about him.

But I don’t see Mami as a villain. What Kazuya is doing is far more villainous. Mami may be looking to score points or exact some kind of vengeance, but she’s also trying to get at the truth of matters, and the truth is Kazuya’s relationships with Chizuru and Ruka are fundamentally flawed and require serious work.

Kazuya should have dumped Ruka, confessed to Chizuru and been rejected, get over it, then asked out Sumi, with whom he is the best version of himself, long ago. The excuse of not wanting to disappoint his grandma has long since ceased holding water. If he insists on maintaining the status quo, stringing Ruka along while he and Chizuru push and pull towards and away from one another, I welcome Mami’s efforts to break that status quo.

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 04 – Staying Put

Yume cannot possibly fathom why Mizuto asked her out on a date, but at no point does she mind that it’s happening, even telling herself it’s a healthy part of any stepsibling relationship. She’s shocked to see Mizuto in a fetching vest and with product in his hair, giving off “intellectual yet charming young man with baggage” vibes, just her type.

But while Mizuto isn’t playing a prank on Yume, his intentions aren’t romantic. Rather, Kawanami convinced him that the best way to make Minami give up her fixation on marrying into their family is to show her a couple “madly in love”. Kawanami and Minami are watching him at all times.

As the “jerk trying to win back the ex he broke up to”, Mizuto feels stiff an awkward…and why wouldn’t he? He’s being watched and all his actions and words are informed by that fact. Despite this, Kawanami assures him he and Yume look like a real couple. And while Yume is confused why Mizuto is being so nice and sweet, she knows she likes it, and it’s preferable to their more usual prickly dynamic.

But it also reminds Yume of a time she’s not proud of, when she worked up the courage to ask Mizuto out, only to get lost when they went to a festival. She also gets lost at the aquarium in the present. But while she’d never felt so low as she did that night, she also scarcely ever felt as good as she did when he arrived with a can of royal milk tea, telling her she doesn’t have to be afraid because she can always rely on him.

As they continue their date, this time acting more naturally (that is, more nerdy) towards one another, it’s Mizuto’s turn to reminisce about when things started to go so wrong in their relationship. When one by one, his love for things she’d say and do turned to hatred. He feels now that they’re freed from their romantic bond, they have no obligation to love, nor reason to hate. He believes they’re in a healthier place.

That said, the date ends with Yume heading home first still having no clue why Mizuto chose such a “punishment”, but still had a good time. As for Minami, she apologizes for sneaking into his house, but doesn’t give up on trying to marry him after all. Well, at least it was a fun date!

When Mizuto comes home, it’s Yume’s turn to issue a punishment, and he has him pose for photos (…a lot of photos) while reading one of her favorite books while still in his handsome date garb. Her final request is for him to come from behind and whisper something in her ear. He obliges, and whispers “I’ve caught you”. All she can say in return is “You’ve caught me.”

Oh, and Minami and Kawanami used to date, and he ended up hospitalized! So we’re dealing with not one but two pairs of exes. But a date that was ostensibly meant to slow Minami’s roll ended up stirring up a lot of old feelings for Yume and Mizuto. The hatred that built up before their breakup has clearly subsided a great deal.

Engage Kiss – 04 – The Last Girl

Ayano and her AAA strike force go in guns blazing to deal with a D-level Demon Hazard, but she recognizes one of the men tangled up in the incident, who is then carted off to the hospital as his lover cries out in the crowd. Ayano then meets with Linfa to again ask for her help out with the police, and we learn that they’re old friends to the extent Linfa can tease her about dating the “younger” Shuu, literally tripping Ayano up.

The next day, Kisara snaps a picture of what looks like Ayano meeting some dude at a love hotel, but she and Shuu learn that Ayano is working with an Anti-Demon Bureau detective to learn more about the whereabouts of the mafia member Tony Rossi, who then ended up murdered in his bed in an apparent gang war retribution.

That night, Shuu tracks down Ayano and suggests they pool resources and work together, apologizing when it seems she’s pissed about something, but that’s the straw that breaks the camels back. Ayano unloads about how Shuu is always apologizing without compromising or listening to her opinions or feelings, and only seems to trust the demon girl.

Ayano also brings up the night of his birthday when she was preparing a party but waited all night and he never showed, eventually doing his apology schtick when he finally did. When Shuu apparently can’t recall this clearly important memory, an exasperated Ayano runs off in tears.

It isn’t Shuu who tracks her down, but Kisara, who has decided it’s time to tell Ayano that Shuu is the way he is now because those precious memories only exist in her head due to his contract with her. During a sober but cordial meal, Ayano laments how Shuu is now someone without a past or a future, and if he keeps this up, he won’t be Shuu anymore.

Indeed, that’s already happening, as he has lost the memories that tied him more closely to Ayano, and is stuck having to apologize for things he can’t remember, all due to the supernatural factor of his new “relationship.” Ayano is committed to not letting Shuu die (either in body or soul) while Kisara is not only fine having a partner who will never love her like he loved Ayano, but fine being his “last girl” at the end, when Shuu can no longer even be called Shuu.

The main draw this week isn’t the gang war between the Italian and Hispanic mafia, both of whom seem to be using demons in their scuffles and causing even more chaos than they normally would…although it’s a good story with lots of clues and twists, especially when it turns into something totally different, stemming back to that woman crying out for Tony in the cold open.

Instead, it’s the dynamic between Shuu and his “first” and “last” women in his life, the impossible choices he made to fulfill his dream of avenging his parents, and the present and future fallout of those choices. He, Ayano, and Kisara form a truly tragic trio where no one will really come out 100% happy.

To add insult to injury, the fact that Tony’s lover Maria has become a demon with blades for arms and is looking to murder everyone involved in Tony’s death creates a parallel tragic romantic route between our protagonists and the ostensible antagonist. The show also makes excellent use of mirrors and reflections to highlight how there are multiple perspectives in play and no one is 100% right or wrong (it also looks cool, especially in the mirror-filled bathroom).

Ayano and Shuu’s work and life are now colliding rapidly, as Ayano is Maria’s next target for elimination. In a testament to the complex yet tight writing, it makes thematic sense that an Ayano distraught over hearing the horrible truth about a man for whom she still cares a great deal, has isolated herself and is thus more vulnerable to attack than she otherwise would be.

While Ayano is clearly in a pickle here, I don’t expect the show to take her off the board just five episodes in. That said, Shuu may well have to give up even more of himself (and memories of her) to save her next week. It continues to be a shitty deal for all involved. This is a much darker and more brooding series than I thought it would be (especially with the upbeat OP and ED) but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 03 – Lettuce and Cheese

Yume looks back with no small degree of unfondness upon her “old” self—from six whopping whole months ago—as an “exceptionally introverted” girl who would save everything Mizuto gave her in a small lockable treasure box. And yet here she is in the present, with Mizuto’s boxers in her hands, and she can’t help but smell them.

Knowing that if he ever caught wind of this he’d make her submit to being his little sister, she waits until the wee hours of the night for him to go to bed so she can return the drawers. But before she can open his door, he opens it…holding her bra. Looks like she wasn’t the only one charmed by the distant past.

To their credit, Yume and Mizuto have a seat in the living room and discuss things logically. They both have the exact same excuse for how they came upon each other’s undergarments, but also both agree that absconding with underwear no matter the circumstances, isn’t appropriate sibling behavior. As such, they agree that each of them gets a free demand of the other—within social norms.

Mizuto declares that within their home they’re to be perfect brother and sister, but outside said walls, they can do whatever they plase. Yume soon learns what he means when he spots him at a MgRonald chatting with a cute girl with black hair and black-framed glasses—virtually the “old her”! She goes to Akatsuki with this information, who can’t deny that Mizuto might just have what it takes to sweep a shy girl off her feet.

The plot thickens when Yume comes home to find a pair of girl’s loafers in the genkan. Assuming the girl is with Mizuto in his room, Yume calls him to ask him to run an errand—”get lettuce and cheese”—and hears footsteps leaving the house. But when she approaches his door, he’s in his room, and doesn’t know of any girl.

…Except he does. One day he was approached in the library by the black-haired girl, who immediately asked him out with the ultimate goal of marriage. She then reveals she’s actually Akatsuki in disguise, and that she wants to marry Mizuto primarily so she can become Yume’s sister, and do sisterly things with her … like bathe her and apply lotion to her body.

Honestly I had no idea Akatsuki had this in her, but when Mizuto calls her childhood friend Kawanami, he is told that this is how Akatsuki is: once she’s infatuated with something she won’t let it go. I agree with Mizuto that Kawanami saying Akatsuki doted so intensely on a previous boyfriend in middle school that he ended up hospitalized is far-fetched, the bottom line is that Mizuto doesn’t like hassles.

He wants to make it as clear as possible as soon as possible to Akatsuki that he’s not interested in marriage. To that end, he decides to cash in his demand of Yume, and asks her to accompany her on a date tomorrow. Yume is no doubt both surprised and flattered. After all, Mizuto is an idiot but he’s her idiot, and seeing him with fake old her was a blow that this invitation helps to mitigate.

Engage Kiss – 03 – What He’s Losing

Before greeting the day, Shuu has a dream about his parents and sister Kanna being killed by demons—Kanna while begging her brother to save her. This is apparently a frequent dream, and he reacts to it as he probably always does: with a kind of grim gratitude. Clutching a photo of his family, he tells them it’s alright: he still remembers them.

There’s a new caterpillar-like demon crawling around Bayron City’s ever-important energy production sector. They mayor’s office learns of this prior to any auction, while Shuu receives a photo of the demon to show Ayano. They meet in a park of some significance, and she makes a point to dress as cute as possible, but also points out all the times he’s betrayed him when asked.

Nevertheless, she recognizes that Shuu should have leave to take this new demon out. He wins the auction to do so by underbidding everyone, but his winning bid is nullified when new info suddenly comes in stating that because the demon is holding a core equivalent to a week’s worth of the city’s electricity, it is not to be eliminated.

Since Shuu doesn’t have the resources to capture, the job falls to AAA. Through Miles explaining the situation to detective Mikami Tetsuya, he once fostered Shuu, and Shuu became the city’s best and only true hope at demon extermination thanks to his contract with a demon. That said, the government only grudingly recognized his new company.

Ayano leads the AAA operation, but the effort to capture the demon goes pear-shaped when the huge caterpillar transforms into a huge moth that shoots powerful lasers. One by one, Ayano’s support is wiped out. Shuu calls Ayano’s mom, who quickly signs him to a contract to clean up the mess. To do so, we see that Shuu has to do more than simply make out with Kisara.

For one thing, we learn definitively that Shuu doesn’t love Kisara; even she knows that. We also learn that due to how “troublesome” this foe is, Kisara’s going to need something extra. Shuu thus decides to sacrifice another set of memories—the ones from when he an Ayano happily lived together—to give Kisara the power she needs.

The kiss is merely a conduit through which Kisara receives and consumes his memories. No sooner do their lips part does a mass of rubble start descending upon an injured Ayano, only for Kisara to save her at the last moment. The soundtrack gets down to business as she takes the fight to the big moth, dodging its laser beams and delivering brutal blows to its thorax.

Shuu wakes up very out of it, but is reoriented by a note on his hand (“Aim at Kisara”) and a locket containing a photo of the family he lost. He readies his rifle, aims and fires where his note told him, which is at the core Kisara already cracked open. It takes not one but two of his fang-bullets to shatter said core and defeat the demon.

In the aftermath of the battle, Ayano limps to where Kisara is inspecting the corpse of the demon moth, asking if she has to thank her for saving her life. Kisara says no…but she feels she should apologize to Ayano. After all, she took Shuu’s happiest memories of him and Ayano together, which he willingly sacrificed in order to keep Ayano safe (and to further his objective). Watching flashes of these memories hit me hard.

Earlier, we learned from Kisara that the outfit Ayano wore at the park meeting was the same one she wore on her and Shuu’s first date. As the keeper of Shuu’s stolen memories, these latest ones related to her “rival” Ayano, it’s no surprise Kisara has adopted a kind of vicarious romance with him. This is not your usual love triangle, and I really dig this dynamic.

The last two episodes established what an unappealing, miserable wretch Ogata Shuu is, while this latest one went a long way towards explaining, if not excusing, why that is. He’s not only “the worst”; he’s the product of a lot of shitty circumstances: the loss of his family, the city government’s combined dependence on and disdain of him, and most importantly, the fact he’s just not the same Shuu anymore.

He’s lost more than his family; he’s lost parts of himself. I daresay I sympathize with the guy. He, Ayano, and Kisara are tragic figures: him because of what he’s lost and will continue to lose, Ayano because she in turn lost (most of) the man she loved, and even Kisara because Shuu will never love her. It’s kind of a bummer, but I respect the show going to these dark places while also delivering top-notch action.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 02 – Youthful Indiscretion

This week our step-couple encounter their first friends, who come to them completely unbidden. Mizuto immediately pegs Kawanami Kogure as a player just trying to use him to get to Yume, but Kawanami assures him he just wants a mate. Minami Akatsuki approaches Yume during physical tests and spends perhaps too much time comparing bust sizes.

Despite being even littler than Yume, Minami is a decent athlete, which only prompts the “reinvented” Yume to try even harder at the various athletic tests. She ends up wearing herself out, but before she falls Mizuto is right there to catch her. In the nurse’s office, Yume comes clean about not being the most athletic person, and Minami is actually a little relieved, as Yume isn’t as perfect and unapproachable as she feared.

The second half of the episode is Yume’s Dizzy Fever Day, and Minami insists on visiting her new friend at her house to make some rice porridge, escorted, of course, by Mizuto. Apparently, when Yume has a fever she “travels to the past”, since she calls Mizuto “Irido-kun” and tells him she felt lonely when he left her side.

As Mizuto and Minami cook in the kitchen, Minami lets on that she knows Mizuto had a girlfriend, despite his aloof attitude, and may even have deduced that Yume was his girlfriend. As such, she asks him what would happen if he got another girlfriend.

After Minami feeds Yume in bed, possibly fulfilling a number of lifelong dreams, she then departs, leaving Mizuto and Minami alone together. Yume’s first comments upon his return are “look at you, in the kitchen with Minami”, but he says Minami is just outgoing, able to get along with anyone, even the likes of him.

Yume brings up a time when they dated when he let go of her hand while she was sick in bed, and wants to hold Mizuto’s hand again. In her feverish, vulnerable state, it’s only natural to want to embrace the familiar and nostalgic. She even gets Mizuto to provide a monologue about the time between the seventh and eighth grades when they dated, ending when “trivial disagreements piled up”.

I have to say, that doesn’t sound like the kind of horrible rancor that would keep these two apart forevermore, especially when Yume pretends to still have a fever long after it’s passed so Mizuto will keep pampering her (which is extremely cute). Even when he finds out and feigns anger, he lets it slide.

More than anything, Yume doesn’t want Mizuto to “leave her behind”. He assures her he’ll “stick around” since they’re siblings now, but as Minami gleaned, they’re more than just that. With their history, they can’t not be.

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