A Couple of Cuckoos – 14 – Thinking About Pi

Nagi agrees to help Erika study for her make-up exams as long as she stays focused, but let’s be honest: even he knew that wasn’t going to be easy. Erika cosplays in a military uniform (and dresses up Sachi too) and plays lip service to this studying “mission” to hold the “territory” of their house, but …she also just might have undiagnosed ADHD.

There’s also the matter of her previous rich girl’s school not being nearly as academically tough as Nagi’s, and even if it’s not Nagi’s fault her father enrolled her there, the fact it was done because they’re engaged lends him a measure of responsibility, so he tries to help her study, but she keeps getting hung up on things like why the symbol for Pi isn’t a cute emoji.

But after more than three hours of not getting through a single problem, Nagi is fed up, and reiterates that he needs to study too in order to beat Hiro. Hearing her brought up is the last straw for Erika, who gives up and skulks off to her room, apparently resigned to move back in with her parents. Nagi, too annoyed by the lack of progress, doesn’t stop her, and Sachi’s attempt at mediation fails.

Later that evening, Nagi realizes that he’s become accustomed to this place, and isn’t in a hurry to leave it, but that’s what will happen if Erika fails the make-ups. That would feel like moving backwards. When he goes downstairs for some coffee he sees Sachi crashing on the couch. She tells him that Erika is still studying, and he should help her.

When he enters her room (without knocking) Erika is sitting at her little desk lamp fighting back tears as she desperately tries to cram, so while Nagi’s sudden appearance is unexpected, it’s not unwelcome. When she asks why he’s helping her when he’s fine with her going home, he says her problems are his problems, because she’s his fiancée.

While Erika continues to prove a tough toutee, Nagi pulls two straight all-nighters with her, and he’s there in the classroom when she receives the result of their hard work and perseverance: her grade improved, and her dad calls off the summons. Erika and Nagi share both revel in their victory with wide smiles. Her text to her dad with the news, complete with eyelid-pull emoji, actually makes him happy.

As a reward for passing, Sachi invites Erika to the festival being held at the shopping district where the Uminos’ diner is. She’s late getting ready, and the folks wander off to mingle, so the family yakisoba stand is run by Nagi and Sachi. You can tell when Nagi catches her after she trips on her laces that Sachi is happy for some quality Onii time.

However, things get awkward with them again when Hiro shows up. Nagi introduces her, she remembers the text on Nagi’s phone about going on a date, and reacts coldly, turning her head and ignoring Nagi when he says she’s being rude. She’s also offended when Nagi so quickly agrees to walk around with Hiro later.

She assumed that Nagi would hang out with her and Erika, especially since this is in part a celebration of Erika passing her exams. It’s kind of cold and oblivious of Nagi too, considering Erika told him to think of Sachi as less of a little sister, and I thought it got through to him. Apparently not!

Naturally, before Nagi is done cleaning up the stand after they sell out of food, Erika arrives resplendent in a yukata lends one to Sachi, and the two head out without him and bump into Hiro, because of course they do! Not only that, Erika introduces Sachi as her sister, when Hiro had already heard that she was Hiro’s.

It’s weird to think that Hiro has never officially met Sachi, but then again she isn’t aware that Erika and Nagi (and Sachi) live in the same house, nor did she even know Nagi’s home was a diner. She and Nagi have been through a lot, but there’s still a lot she doesn’t know about him and Erika, and it looks like she’s going to learn more very soon.

Whether that new knowledge will change how she feels about Nagi “changing her fate”, or makes her feel betrayed and hurt, only time will tell. But I for one believe she’s been in the dark too long as Nagi’s “side girl”. It’s time for things to come to light and let the cards fall where they may.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 13 – It’s a New Morning

After Nagi’s realization sparked by dad that he harbors feelings for all three of Hiro, Erika, and Sachi, he realizes something else: he cannot think about anything else. This realization, combined with the reality that he hasn’t been studying nearly as much as he used to, comes crashing down on him in the middle of midterm exams. He ends up bombing, falling from first to thirteenth.

Nagi shambles home and holes up in his dark room, feeling like trash, since he believes his primary value to be studying and acing tests. Under the pretext of complaining about dinner not being ready (complete with growling stomach), Erika enters his room to tell him that’s simply not the case, and no matter his rank, he’s “just as valuable” to her.

It’s an extremely cute and bold move from Erika coming off her “not yet” amendment, and Nagi can’t help but smile when he realizes she’s both trying and succeeding to cheer him up.

Hiro is a slightly different story. Back at school, she starts blatantly avoiding him, but then leaves one of her signature not-love letters in his shoe locker. Erika suggests that Hiro feels betrayed because Nagi was on his high horse about beating her once only to fall so far on the next exam. But as we learn when Nagi meets Hiro at the beautifully lit basketball court after school, that’s only half of Hiro’s story.

After Nagi apologizes for letting his guard down and commits to doing better, Hiro passes him the rock, giving a playful rhythm to their make-up talk. But it wasn’t just her respect for him as an academic rival that made her upset; it was learning how quickly he cheered up without any input from her. She wanted to be the one to cheer him up first but Erika beat her to the punch.

Watching Hiro make a layup in dazzling slow motion, it occurs to Nagi that while things are a lot more complicated with regard to his romantic life, he still loves Hiro aplenty, and still wants to beat her enough times at exams so he can “change her fate” she’ll process his confession. But as we saw during times when he and Erika were having what amounted to lovers quarrels in earshot of both Hiro and Sachi, everyone coming out of this happy and satisfied is a tall ask.

I’m not surprised Nagi wants to try his best to simplify and work on things he knows he can by getting back to his intense studying regimen and climbing back to the top of the rankings. Even then, Erika makes it known she needs his help studying, or her folks will bring her back home.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 04 – Anywhere is Fine

Izumi, always sensitive to the heat and sun, is struggling on the roof where his friends have gathered to discuss plans for summer break. Not only do I salute these kids for being on top of things—how many times are anime are summer breaks wasted due to lack of communication? Enter Shikimori, who surprises him by touching his face with a cold sports drink.

Hachimitsu also offers him some space under her parasol. This notably doesn’t worry Shikimori, as “it’s just Hachimitsu”, i.e. not someone trying to steal her Izumi! As for where they’re going for break, they decide on the river, as the beach would prove too much for Izumi. They make it clear they’re not compromising on his account; they want to go somewhere where everyone will have fun.

Nekozaki Kyou, the energetic heart of the friend group whom I find myself loving more and more as the series progresses, decides that despite it just being the river, everyone should wear swimsuits. So instead of studying for upcoming final exams, she brings everyone out shopping. When Izumi says he probably won’t be swimming, she says she’s fine not buying a swimsuit.

…That is until she spots Izumi gazing a tad too intently on a poster of a swimsuit model in a skimpy black bikini. While Izumi is simply admiring her muscles (confirming that Izumi has a type) Shikimori races to the swimsuit store and finds the same bikini…but is hesitant to purchase it. Nekozaki seconds that, and assure her she and Hachimitsu will find her one that suits her.

Nekozaki can tlel when Shikimori’s fiery competitive spirit and hatred of losing rears its head; it’s what ended up being the icing on the cake for why she made it a point to become friends with Shikimori. She already had a girl-crush on her for being her idea of a perfect, pure, ideal woman, and then they played one hell of a passionate basketball game, and Nekozaki simply couldn’t stay on the friendship sideline a second longer.

I’m of the mind that Nekozaki is selling herself far too short, and that Inuzuka would be lucky to have her as a girlfriend. I know “Inu”zuka and “Neko”zaki indicate an incompatible dynamic (cats and dogs, oil and vinegar), I think if they’re honest with each other they’d make a good couple. Their sniping at each other feels like a practiced act.

Once the girls rejoin the guys in the food court, Izumi notices how excited Shikimori looks and asks her what she bought. When Shikimori says nothing, he knows she’s lying. Nekozaki saw Shikimori have Izumi in the palm of her hand earlier, but here the tides have turned; there are plenty times when she’s in his palm. It’s why they work so well as a couple.

The first day of finals arrives, and Izumi has a particularly cursed day, even for him; ending with Shikimori is pulling him away from an angry (tiny) dog (shades of the excellent video gamey ED). Later, Izumi is lamenting being unable to study properly when Shikimori gives him a call simply to hear his voice.

Night calls between girlfriend and boyfriend are often veritable fonts of big time feels, but this scene is the cream of the crop. The two sitting in their rooms in the dark, connected by the starry night sky. Izumi tells her about his love of the stars, but how he never got a chance to stargaze as a kid due to it always being cloudy when he wanted to.

When Shikimori assures him she’ll take him somewhere to see the stars, Izumi brings up the fact she lobbied for them to go to the river rather than the beach, and states his desire to take her somewhere she wants to go. The thing is, Shikimori is fine with anywhere as long as he’s there.

The two spout so many sweet somethings to each other, and they both want to desperately see each other’s faces—completely forgetting the fact that video calls are a thing. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most adorable and heartwarming moments yet between these two desperately beautiful, loving souls.

In the after-credit omake, Shikimori is at a cooking class with Izumi’s beautiful but accident-prone mom. She’s naturally nervous around Izumi’s mom, considering looks-and-kindness-wise she’s basically an older female version Izumi.

As such, the scene is humming with romantic tension, especially when Izumi’s trips while bringing Shikimori a left-handed knife, and Shikimori catches the knife with one hand and Izumi’s mom with the other. If mama didn’t already know Shikimori is far more than just a cutie, she sure as heck knows now!

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 04 – The Eyes that Propelled Him

YUU CAN’T DIE

No sooner is Yuu shooting death lasers at Kashiwagi and her bae once they leave the office and talking about how students should be focused on their studies (stated while playing video games) than he’s melting into a puddle of goo when his crush, third-year Koyasu Tsubame stops by to drop off some foreshadowing…er, an application for the upcoming cultural festival.

I’m pleased as punch Tsubame is back, she and Yuu had great chemistry, and it was only near the end of that momentous sports fest arc that we even saw her eyes. But is Yuu simply infatuated with her because she’s nice to him, or does he have an actual chance? Ever the pessimist, he’s certain it’s the latter.

Kaguya won’t suffer Yuu’s moping about what can and can’t be done; she’s been in a slog of a romantic stalemate with her crush for over two damn cours, it’s as much sage advice as a warning that it’s best to come out and confess sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, Yuu’s “innate creepiness” has him imagining a flower-a-day at Tsubame’s desk or an album of himself with a note are good ways to do it.

Kaguya, as inept as she’d been with her own romance, continues to prove her value as an advisor to Yuu, steering him away from certain disaster and putting him on a long but doable path to not only making his feelings known to Tsubame, but realizing his potential to be someone Tsubame likes.

Since Yuu is neither strong, rich, or popular, Kaguya sends him on the path of academic achievement, assisting him in studying for the lofty goal of scoring in the top 50 of his grade in the upcoming exams. The next segment is tied to the first, as each of the other four StuCo members agree with Miyuki’s suggestion that they go on hiatus so that everyone can study from home.

Everyone is hiding ulterior motives (and A-1 faces): Miyuki can’t study in the office because he’s too distracted by Kaguya’s beauty; Kaguya can’t study at home because she’s too distracted by her new smartphone; Iino, like Miyuki, wants to keep her #1 ranking, and Chika…Chika already gets double allowance so she stands to lose the least here.

As for Yuu? No lies and no face; he’s already hard at work studying at home. But when the exams come and go and the rankings are posted, he doesn’t make it to the Top 50. Kaguya suspects he rose about 20 spots from his  previous position near the bottom of his class. A tremendous improvement, but also a crushing defeat too.

Yuu pretends he’s not bitter about it to Kaguya and shuffles off to the boy’s room to stew in abject bitterness. Fortunately, Kaguya didn’t buy his act, and brazenly violates the bathroom rule to confirm that, indeed, Yuu is super pissed-off, and that he’ll take this small step forward as merely the loss of a battle for which expectations were naturally high. If love is war, losing this first battle can, and must, motivate him to keep fighting on.

Super Butler Herthaka-kun

With the show showering so much darma and character love on Yuu, who now has two potential love interests (like Miyuki with Kaguya and Ai), Chika is now, by default, the least developed and most mysterious member of the StuCo. Maybe that’s on purpose due to her simplistic nature, but one wonders if there will be room for her to have a major character-defining arc this season.

For now, she presents an open dinner invitation to Kaguya, Miyuki, and Kei in appreciation for their help and friendship. With exams out of the way, Kaguya is pumped up for a dinner party and sleepover, if for no other reason than the opportunity for Miyuki to nod off on her shoulder. She wants to do it that night, but Chika’s dad is out of town.

Chika suggests an alternate site for the sleepover: Kaguya’s place! There, Chika is met by “Herthaka-kun”, Ai’s…(deep breath) gay-male-crybaby-war orphan-Harvard graduate butler persona. While Kaguya scolds Ai for weaving such rococo lies, Chika simply stands in awe of “Super Butler Herthaka-kun”…yet another potentially awesome Kaguya spin-off.

Kaguya and Chika proceed to have a lovely girls night together, and while Miyuki and Kei can’t make it to the sleepover, they are offered a window into it when Chika calls him up. She’s able to do this not only without Kaguya’s objection but her encouragement because Kaguya rarely stays up past 11, and Chika’s prattle has now kept her up past midnight.

This has the effect of rendering Kaguya into a state not dissimilar from drunkenness, where her usual inhibitions drop and her judgment is compromised. She’s in full Go-with-the-Flow Mode, so Chika FaceTimes Miyuki and asks him straight-up if he’s in love with someone.

Kei happens to be in the room when Miyuki receives the call, and becomes fully engaged in the conversation when she spots Kaguya and Chika-nee on his screen. After adorably picking up the place even though they’re not there, Kei confirms to Chika that her brother is definitely in love, because he’s always LINEing with “someone named “Herthaka.”

When Chika hears this name, and she turns to face Herthaka-kun the butler, who is presently texting, her nose bleeds and she excuses herself from the segment.

That leaves Kaguya and Miyuki on the call together. Kaguya sleepily declares her furiousness at him right now for sending texts to someone else, but says she’ll forgive him if he tells her who he’s in love with. When he hesitates, she says she’ll go first…only to fall asleep before saying the name.

Miyuki is left with female Herthaka on his screen telling him Kaguya is asleep and she’s hanging up, but not before Kei gets a good look at the girl her bro is apparently courting. Kaguya wins the round because despite her fatigue she doesn’t let slip who she loves, but in my book both she and Miyuki lose the round because they’re still stuck in an endless slog.

Maybe the cultural festival will progress things further. I’m not saying I need a confession from either or both of them for this season to be a success—it’s the ride, not the destination that counts, and this is the Rolls-Royce of rides—but it would be nice for these two to join Takagi and Nishikata in the “Official-At-Last” corner.

Heroines Run the Show – 03 – Princely When it Counts

It was only a matter of time before LIPxLIP warmed up to Hiyori’s wholesome country charm. Yuujirou and Aizou were hostile towards her initially simply because they didn’t know her. That’s rectified by Uchida, who tells Yuujirou (who then tells Aizou) that Hiyori came to Tokyo to run, and took a job to live.

The boys call each other out on being okay with this girl among all the others (in Aizou’s case) and having no qualms about showing his true self (in Yuujirou’s). Knowing how hard she works, they can’t help but show grudging respect; at least from afar.

Closer in, they’re much more comfortable messing with her, though when they learn that she failed her midterms and is desperately crunching for the finals so she can compete in athletics, they eventually close the distance and give her some pointers on what to study for in the little time she has left.

What good boys! And here I was calling them assholes last week. They were, and often still are, but it’s goot to see their sharp edges softening due to Hiyori not only being someone you want to support and protect, but also someone you admire for not giving up no matter how high the hurdles.

Going to school together and working together, these three high school-age people were always going to gradually become friends, I just didn’t expect it to come so fast and yet so organically. But that rapidity is facilitated by a catalyst when the three are on a music video shoot for their song “Nonfantasy”.

Their co-star in the video is the up-and-coming amateur model Yumeru-chan, whom we meet in an elegant red dress. She’s a big fan of LIPxLIP, so when she spots the boys goofing around with Hiyori, she gets right pissed off. She wants to be their clothing tree, dagnabit!

Fishing for juicy rumors and looking to put a rival in their place, Yumeru takes Hiyori aside and asks her straight-up what her relationship to the others is. Hiyori deflects and is clearly uncomfortable, and why wouldn’t she be? This world of desperately beautiful people dressed like royalty isn’t her world; they’re stars, and she’s just a bit player.

And while yes, Yumeru is meant to be more “classically pretty”, Hiyori is a far more beautiful person, because she’s not looking to put others down to lift herself up. She just wants to run, and make her friends and family happy they gave her their support.

During a dinner break, Yuujirou and Aizou laugh when Hiyori’s stomach grumbles, and happily offer her some of what looks like an epic craft services spread. Yumeru, again both mystified and enraged, trips Hiyori while she’s walking away, and coffee spills on her dress. The boys apologize profusely for their “staff member.”

Hiyori hides under the lectern of a wedding chapel, but the boys soon track her down, clearly concerned with her. Yumeru shows up and asks for their numbers, but they don’t give them out; company policy. Then Yumeru spots Hiyori in the shadows and asks why they’re fine with her?

Yumeru has the nerve to warn them that Hiyori may have just taken the job to get closer to them—right after she took this job tried to get closer to them. Aizou—not Yuujirou—drops the idol mask and points out this hypocrisy. Yuujirou then adds that he saw Yumeru trip Hiyori.

When she claims she didn’t, he says they can check the security cameras to be sure. He then praises her fake crying but suggests she doesn’t take up acting as she “lacks imagination” to realize messing with their staff would piss them off. After Yumeru storms off, Aizou tells Yuu he might’ve gone too far, but Yu isn’t concerned. If Yumeru wants to start a shit fight, he can sling it with the best of them.

The bottom line is, the risk of exposing their mean sides was worth it if it meant telling someone that Hiyori may be a somewhat plain, simple country girl staff member, she’s also not someone they’ll tolerate being abused. Yumeru made Hiyori an enemy for no reason, and when the boys saw that, it likely reminded them of their shitty attitudes when Hiyori was first hired, thus compounding their irritation.

I’m happy to report that while they will likely continue to mess with Hiyori because she’s such an easy target, they’re also doing it good-naturedly, because they’ve come to like her, and anyway wouldn’t mess with someone they didn’t. They’re also genuinely concerned about how her exams turns out, and flash their best idol smiles upon learning she barely passed.

The power of those idol smiles is enough  to make even Hiyori blush. After all, even after they took off their prince costumes for the music video, they still looked pretty damn princely to Hiyori, because they defended her against someone who didn’t know her. Now that they do, they’ll slay any dragon for her.

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 01 – Eighty Seven

Komi Can’t Communicate picks up where it left off: with Komi in her room, this time greeting the morning after bonking her head groggily reaching for her phone. On her window sill are three treasured photos that demonstrate how much progress she’s made making friends.

After a brief but lovely prelude of Komi making her way to school, Najimi surprises her at the shoe lockers by touching her face with her cold hand (it’s winter). Komi then does the same thing to Tadano.

After Najimi breaks the fourth wall for a bit, she has Komi ask all of her friends to write their names down in a small notepad. Out of the 100 friends she wants to make, she currently has…thirteen. That means she needs to make 87 more in just one semester!

I wonder whether this will ultimately be a matter of the final number not mattering because, well, thirteen is a lot of friends, especially when some of them haven’t gotten a segment in the anime yet!

But this season will certainly introduce more oddballs, starting with Katai Makoto, the mild mannered fellow who missed the start of school with an illness, got anxiety about going back, and bulked up and dyed his hair so now everyone assumes he’s a violent delinquent. It doesn’t help that his attempt at a friendly smile comes off as an evil smirk.

Katai’s inner monologue is completely at odds with how the rest of the class sees him, and they form a human wall arounf Komi to protect her from his delinquentness. Even so, he manages to sit down beside Komi, and the two of them, too scared to be the first to talk, simply stare each other down.

Enter Tadano, who is nice to Katai (of course) and give him a tour to refamiliarize himself with the school. But Katai thanks Komi for her silent advice, even calling her a “master of communication”.

The next segment involves a study session for upcoming exams, spearheaded by Najimi, who insists take place at Nakanaka’s, ostensibly so they can play video games. While Najimi jumps into bed and sleeps, Nakanaka and Ren get into it, aiming to determine who likes Komi more. A kind of heated RPG battle between them unfolds, with Tadano wisely staying out of it as the increasingly elaborate insults fly.

When the two girls finally turn to Komi and ask her straight-up who she values more as a friend, she writes a response that leaves no room for doubt: Both of you are important friends to me. Briefly chastened by her heartfelt sentiment, Ren and Nakanaka still decide to determine who is the better friend…through video games. Najimi, fresh off their nap, beats them both and makes sure to gloat about it plenty.

The final segment is the simplest and quietest, but also the sweetest, as the exams are underway. Komi, who only took out two pencils, drops one on the floor and breaks the tip of the other. She’s too scared to ask the teacher to pick them up (students can’t leave their desks), but Tadano picks up on her little dilemma and drops his own pencil so he can call the teacher over.

When Tadano realizes he has no eraser, Komi returns the favor by breaking hers in two and dropping half on the ground so Tadano can ask the teacher to retrieve it for him. The two are so tickled pink by their concern for one another, it makes concentrating on the exams hard, while Tadano will go on to treasure that half of Komi’s eraser like a precious gem.

If you’re like me and were itching for more Komi, you weren’t disappointed: the second season opens with more of the same characters in slightly different scenarios, combined with a new quirky character for Komi to befriend on the long and probably over-ambitious path to 100.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 01 (First Impressions) – Toupees are a No-Go

The master spy Twilight never wanted a family. He’d sworn such emotional connections off when he decided to become a master spy. Connections would only slow him down or compromise him. But now his latest mission is to gather intel on a man who only attends school related social functions. So he crafts the name Loid Forger, gets an apartment, all-too-easily adopts a 4-to-6-year-old  girl named Anya, and begins to craft the illusion that he is a father.

As you’d expect, someone who’d sworn family off does not make the best dad out of the box, and he’s clearly thrown off by Anya’s chaotic behavior, so he raids the library for parenting books. But at the end of the day, he’s like every other new parent out there: on his own, and needing to stay on his toes. He’s now responsible for a life other than his own.

Little does he know that his secret about being a spy isn’t a secret, nor are any of his thoughts. That’s because Anya is an esper, able to effortlessly read his mind and those of anyone else she chooses. This is the result of shadowy human experimentation project from which she fled and has been in and out of foster families and orphanages ever since.

Anya’s built-in struggles with family stability create instant pathos and sympathy for her, on top of her being someone you want Loid to protect at all costs. That said, she really makes it harder than it needs to be by messing with Loid’s spy stuff while he’s out, and ends up getting kidnapped by the same people Loid worked with in his previous mission (I love their leader’s insistence politicians can pretend they’re not bald).

Loid is jumped by several thugs, but while it looks like he’s had his head stove in by a pipe, when he’s brought before the thugs’ boss, he’s not the man with the sack on his head; he switched himself out somewhere along the way. He rescues Anya in disguise and tells her to run to the nearest police station, as he’s decided his mission is to dangerous to involve a little girl. But after he deals with the boss, Anya is still there waiting for him, and makes it clear she wants to remain a family.

Loid relents, and then helps Anya study for the entrance exam needed to be accepted to the academy where his target’s kid also goes, thus giving him the access he needs. It’s a good thing he helped her memorize the answers, too, because none of the minds of the kids around her know them! When Loid finds her number on the board of accepted students, he can’t contain his genuine joy, and is suddenly hit by all the built-up exhaustion of the last few days.

He manages to get home and passes out on the couch. Anya gets the mail (telling the mailman “her mother doesn’t exist”) then sees Loid asleep and vulnerable, and decides to curl up under his arm, finally with a home and parent to her name after so much heartbreak and pain. When Loid wakes up to read the mail that arrived, he learns that having a daughter won’t be enough: he’ll need a wife in order to pass the second admission test. How hard could it be?

Spy x Family is a taut, brisk, and thoroughly charming and heartwarming story of a spy’s ice cold heart gradually melting in the presence of the world’s cutest telepathic orphan. Will he really abandon her like all those others once his mission is complete, or will the fake family he’s building (and will soon complete with a fake wife) convince him he can have “conventional happiness”?

Yuru Camp△ – 09 – Winging It

Rin invites Nadeshiko to join her at a riverside campsite in Nanbucho within biking distance, but when the appointed day arrives, the usually hale and hearty Nadeshiko comes down with a cold and has to back out! She dramatically tells Rin to leave her body behind and go on without her…and Rin proceeds to do just that.

In the wee hours of the morning, she’s off on her trusty moped to Kamiina, having quickly arranged a solo trip the day before. It’s the first of many instances of winging it in this episode when events take unexpected turns. She’s hoping to shave 30km off her trip by using the Yashajin Pass as a shortcut.

Unfortunately, the pass is closed—not for winter, but year-round to all private motor vehicles in order to protect the environment, something her Maps app did not indicate. Had Rin more time to plan her trip, she might’ve dug deeper, but again, she was winging it, so now she has to wing it again. It’s not a total loss, as before turning around to get back on track she meets a couple of friendly mountain climbers, one of whom gives her some tea.

From there she heads to Tsuetsuki Pass south of Suwa Lake. By then, Nadeshiko is up and feeling better, and is eager to serve as a guide for Rin so it feels more like they’re camping together. Rin is up for it, and soon finds that at times Nadeshiko’s phone is commandeered by Chiaki, who came to check up on her.

Chiaki also brought Nadeshiko a get-well gift: a pack of houtou noodles, a Yamanashi specialty. Nadeshiko asks if Chiaki, a “true Yamanashi girl”, can make it for her, being a for full authenticity, and Chiaki acquiesces. The thing is, Chiaki’s never actually made it, so she rolls up her sleeves and…wings it!

The pressure is relatively low with just Nadeshiko to feed—she doesn’t seem like the pickiest eater—but when Nadeshiko’s mom, dad, and sister all arrive in sequence the pressure really builds. Fortunately, Chiaki finds a bangin’ recipe by a pro, follows it to the letter, and it’s a big hit, even with Sakura, who despite her look of anger and/or distrust says it’s heavenly and would like the recipe.

It almost feels like the episode itself is winging it in suddenly introducing Nadeshiko and Sakura’s parents after we’d seen neither hide nor tail of them for the past eight episodes. Finally revealing them in order to compound Chiaki’s sitcom scenario was an inspired choice.

Knowing how much Rin likes doggies, Nadeshiko suggests she pop by Kouzenji, a temple that houses the grave of local canine hero Hayatarou, AKA ShippeitarouOne of the benefits of winging it, and putting yourself in the hands of others to guide you, is you never know what unexpected and fascinating things you’ll see and learn!

Rin tries to resist the temptation of the adorable (and ¥500) dog fortunes, but eventually relents, and gains a “decent” fortune…which seems about right! Then she goes to the Hayatarou Hot Springs to thaw out her frozen body. The juxtaposition of Rin sitting in the bath with the mountains in the distance makes for an idyllic, picturesque scene.


Once there, she isn’t sure she wants to go anywhere else, so when Nadeshiko and Chiaki angrily duel via texts over where Rin should eat, Rin once again simply wings it and orders a katsudon set right there at the baths. The other two can both live with the compromise meal. They also get a text from Saitou: she’s in for Christmas Camping. All who’s left to ask is Rin, which Nadeshiko resolves to do.

Rin’s road journey was so long, cold and grueling, and bath and meal so warm and relaxing, she ends up falling asleep right at the table, dreaming of Nadeshiko as the mustachioed master of the legendary Hayatarou, who steals Rin’s salad! When Rin wakes up, it’s past five in the evening and dark out. Looks like she’ll have to wing it at least once more!

Yuru Camp△ – 08 – Caribou in Minobu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Day I Became a God – 10 – The Disappearance of Satou Hina

Hina is gone from Youta’s life, as well as those of Kyouko, Ashura, Sora, and the rest of the gang. After a period of restless but fruitless searching, life has returned to normal—or at least to what it was before Hina appeared—though Kyouko seems to hang out with the boys a lot more often.

Before they know it, their group of three friends swells to four with the addition of transfer student Suzuki Hiroto. Hiroto randomly approaches Youta one day, hacks his number onto his phone, and just like that, they’re hanging out on the regular.

He even has Youta and Ashura to teach him basketball, though he already seems pretty good at it. When the others suggest going out for burgers, Hiroto suggests ramen, so they go to Jinguuji’s. He suggests all four of them play a game, and so they play mahjongg.

Youta still tends to the “Lost Hina” posters around town, even if it seems futile, because each day he hangs out with his friends, there nevertheless feels a sense of emptiness, that Hina should be among them. When Hiroto asks if he can watch Sora’s movie, Youta vetoes, because it’s “not finished. Fall turns to Winter, and then entrance exams in the new year.

It’s clear by now to us that Hiroto is very consciously getting Youta & Co. to go through all of the same experiences they went through with Hina…but Youta’s melancholy is such that he doesn’t pick up on it until Hiroto loses his temper, gives up, and threatens to leave.

That’s when it dawns on Hiroto what he’s doing, and Hiroto reiterates that he’s a genius who do “just about anything”—and that includes letting Youta access to Hina. It’s just that his boss insisted that he not directly tell Youta why he showed up in his life; Youta had to figure it out for himself.

Now that he has, Hiroto offers him the opportunity to see Hina. He warns him that she won’t be the Hina he remembers, but Youta doesn’t hesitate for a moment. Just like that, Hiroto’s drive gives them a ride to the Yamada Sanitarium, where Hina is currently a patient.

Hiroto wielded his hacking magic to ensure Youta had full access, but only for a maximum of two weeks. He strides right in and is met by a matter-of-fact visiting researcher, who takes him to Hina’s room. We discover what’s become of her…and it’s predictably gutting.

Bedridden, lean, wan, and very out of it, it would appear her Logos Syndrome has picked up where it left off before her grandfather cured her with the quantum computer in her brain. When that computer was cruelly removed from her brain, they had to shave her hair, which has only recently grown back.

The researcher also warns Youta not to yell or be provocative, as Hina is acutely fearful of men, hence the all-female staff of the facility. She can’t discern between Youta’s anger for those who did this to her and anger directed at her specifically, and she freaks out. Their visit has to be cut short.

Youta sits outside in the cold, and snow starts to collect on his head. He is lost. The emptiness remains, and it expands and festers from the sheer heartbreaking injustice of it all. Hina didn’t do anything to deserve such treatment. Youta can scarcely believe this is real life. Not having a remote idea what to do, his confidence is flickering away like a dying flame in frigid winds.

Where does he go from here? My suggestion? Maybe slowly, gently try again with Hina…only KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE YELLING!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 23 – Back to Basics

After episodes introducing various new Soumas and episodes that delved into the pasts of Arisa and Saki, this week’s Fruits Basket refocuses on the core of Tooru, Kyou and Yuki and the imperfect but effective dynamic between them that makes this whole thing work so well.

As we know, Tooru has a bit of a complex when it comes to valuing herself, and setbacks like failing a test Yuki helped her study for only acts as a catalyst for her self-loathing, as she repeatedly calls herself a “disgrace.” Then she catches a cold, only adding fuel to that fire.

Once the Soumas finally get her to lie down and rest—the only way she’ll get better—Kyou prepares rice porridge for her unbidden, and provides an open ear who’ll listen to her troubles. Turns out she’s worried about breaking her promise to her mom to graduate high school.

Kyou tells her not to sweat it—she can take makeups—nor to worry about putting Yuki out—he’s happy to help her and provides more notes. Ultimately, Kyou just wants her to feel better so she can get back to being the bright, cheerful, dottering Tooru they all know and love.

Kyou manages to cheer her up, and thanks to Yuki’s notes, she passes the makeup tests. While walking home in the rain (which makes Kyou uncharacteristically sluggish) the camera cuts to an unfamiliar figure whose face is obscured by an old-fashioned umbrella.

But the real storm is back home, where Kagura is lying in wait to see Kyou. Shigure manages to get the two out of the house to buy groceries with a minimum of property damage, which he bills to Kyou and Kagura’s bank accounts. Tooru learning that all the Soumas have these interconnected accounts reminds her how much she has yet to learn about them.

We’ve seen Kyou and Kagura “interact” (read:brawl) before, but never in a public place, where Kagura mentions “that thing” he hasn’t yet told Tooru, and he erupts at her without regard to the fact they’re in the middle of a crowded supermarket.

Kagura may be overbearing and clingy but you’d think Kyou would learn that being an ass to her won’t make her stop loving him, so he might as well make the best of the situation. He has his moments, as when he agrees to hold hands home, but alas, only half of the way.

Tooru’s weathered old ballcap and Kyou’s secret are enticing callbacks issues lingering under an otherwise pleasant slice-of-life outing, and one more wrinkle is added at the very end when Kyou encounters the umbrella guy at the front door, and refers to him as Shishou, indicating this is the man who trained him in martial arts.

I wonder what he wants with just two episodes left in the season?

Fruits Basket – 11 – Giving Everything

For those who haven’t been paying attention, Tooru is a giver. She gives and gives and gives, sometimes without thinking; sometimes with quite a bit of thought behind it; and always, always without regard for any consequences that might crop up as a result of that boundless generosity. The only one she’s not generous to is herself. As has been said about her, she plays by a different set of rules.

Two of the unintended effects of this: it’s hard for her to accept anything in return, and it’s hard for anyone else to give to her without her wondering if that’s really okay. But after Valentine’s Day, you have White Day. It’s tradition. It’s the rules of society. So she’s expecting something in return for her chocolates. She just wasn’t expecting a hot spring trip, courtesy of Momiji.

As with most things offered to her, she feels unworthy, or at least feels she’d be an expensive burden. An onsen is costly, no matter how you look at it! And this, despite the fact she spent so much of her own money buying ingredients for the chocolates she gave everyone, she’s fallen behind on school trip payments. Kyou, just barely moderating his temper, asks Tooru to go have a bath, then turns to the issue at hand: just how stupid is Tooru to be so selfless with her money?

Momiji regails Kyou and Yuki with a “Funny Story” from a book he once read in school, about an “idiot” traveler who was constantly being swindled and duped out of possessions, until she wandered the forest naked. There, a bunch of demons duped her out of her body, all except a head with no eyes (shades of Hyakkimaru), leaving her only a piece of paper that read “idiot.”

First of all, this is not a funny story, WTF is wrong with Momiji’s classmates? But secondly, the fact the traveler never despaired, but only wept with joy that the things she gave up went on to help people (even if they lied about needing them). Like Tooru, her warped perspective is just something that works for her, and you can either accept it or consider not hanging out with her anymore, because she’s probably never going to change!

For all of this shows’s demonstrations that the Soumas can transform into animals, Tooru may be the most bizarre creature of them all, and especially out of place in modern Japanese capitalist society. Yet like Momiji, Kyou and Yuki, what initially, by my own less lofty set of standards and different perspective, might seem like idiocy could also be described as nobility; of representing the best of what a person could be; someone who, if everyone emulated them, would make the world a so much better place.

The proprietor of the onsen, a woman of frail health whose off-camera son is the Monkey of the Zodiac, was initially suspicious of Tooru, an outsider, of being a potentially disruptive or harmful force to her cursed child. But that was before she met her, or saw her soaking in the spring with her dead mother’s picture in a plastic bag to keep her dry. She can tell she had no reason to worry; Tooru is One Of The Good Ones.

It’s amazing Tooru agreed to go at all, considering how kingly a gift she considers a hot spring trip. By blowing everything nice other people do for her out of proportion…it can be challenging, at times perhaps even trying, to contend with that. But everyone has fun at the onsen trip.

Tooru plays the quickest and funniest round of ping pong, gets a lovely hair ribbon from Yuki, along with his full-on Prince Act, and Momiji gets to sleep beside Tooru, even though she’s just a year younger than Kyou or Yuki. But the night before she learns this, Tooru simply lies in bed thanking her mother for making all this happiness with the Soumas possible.

That may seem macabre—essentially thanking your mom for dying—but like I said, Tooru doesn’t play by those rules. Everything that happens to her, and everyone she meets, good or bad, is a miraculous gift, and she takes absolutely nothing for granted.

 

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 24 (Fin) – Better Late Than Never

The last two weeks of 3D Kanojo: Real Girl have been odd and honestly a little frustrating. First of all, with Iroha facing a potentially life-and/or-memory-threatening medical operation, Iroha and Hikari basically break up, saying their final goodbyes.

The question I had at the end was, why? Why is Iorha cutting Hikari loose now? Certainly not to spare him the pain of losing her! And why is Hikari okay with this, and not insisting on staying by her side so she doesn’t have to face this trial alone? Then, last week, without providing a satisfying answer to that question, the show simply moves on with a HUGE leap in time, after which we learn Iroha survived the operation, but her memories didn’t.

That’s all well and good, but when they broke up, neither Iroha nor Hikari knew with 100% certainty that this would be the case. Iroha could have emerged from the operation with her memories intact, allowing them to remain the loving couple they clearly wanted to be. More troubling is the possibility that even though she lost her memories post-op, she might be more likely to regain them with her lover present (another reason I questioned them breaking up when they did).

Alas, none of that happened. And that was a little strange! But hey, sometimes things don’t work out the way you expect. I’m sure Hikari is well versed in this concept early in the episode, as he ponders whether it’s time to finally forget about Iroha. Who would have thought that Iroha’s brother Chika of all people would be the one to actually make the right choice at the right time?

If he wanted, Iroha would move back to L.A. and live with him. He obviously adores her. But his love is not the kind that would deprive her of that which she needed most, just for his own benefit. So after six months of being a total dick to Hikari in high school, he pulls a 180 (seven years later, for some reason) and tells Iroha why she feels there’s a big hole in her heart she’s unable to fill: there’s a guy out there who knows and understands her better than he.

So Chika arranges for Hikari and Iroha to meet—something that should have happened ages ago, mind you—and Hikari is his usual self-flagellating self. While he’s happy beyond belief that she’s alive, he stops short of giving his name. He’s prepared to let her go all over again, content that she survived. But then Iroha sees the strap on his bag that matches hers, and she suddenly remembers Tsutsun.

Hikari was ready to let her go because he feels he didn’t deserve to have her remember him (always nailing himself to the cross, Hikari). There’s definitely a case to be made for why he didn’t fight harder to stay by her side…or even suggest it for that matter, but one can chalk that up to Hikari being a romantic naif. But that hopelessly kind side of him is what finally causes Iroha’s memories of him to surface.

Fast-forward to Takanashi and a very pregnant Ishino’s wedding, where we’re introduced to 25-year-old Itou (who’s not that different), but no Ayado (it’s as if she was written off the show!), and during which Hikari of all people accidentally catches the bouquet. That’s right about when Ishino discovers one of her wedding guests is none other than Iroha.

It goes without saying that she, Takanashi, and Itou are beyond elated to see her, and simply by reuniting with them, Iroha is able to remember bits and pieces of her old friends (which, again, if only she’d done this years ago her memories would already be back!)

At the reception, we finally learn that Ayado married someone else, and simply couldn’t make it to the wedding. After the reception, Hikari tells Iroha they should get together again sometime, even if she’s going back to L.A. That’s when Iroha tells him she’s remembered more—a lot more—about the person she was, and how she was once terrible.

At first, dating him was only about curiosity than actually caring about him, but that soon changed when she got to know him, and being with him changed her as well, for the better. She now remembers those six months with him were the happiest of her life. Hikari feels the same way, and if he ever found out she was alive again, he’d always hoped she’d fall in love with him again.

Hikari doesn’t want her to go back to Los Angeles after all, and so does something he should have done seven frikkin’ years ago, and what he needs to to do stay by her side: he tells her not to go back. As Iroha feels the same way, she wholeheartedly agrees.

Fast-forward to another wedding, this time, that of Iroha and Hikari. Ayado is there—with long hair! Everyone’s doing the opposite length of what they had in high school, apparently—and not only that, she’s recently divorced! Itou, in his eternal awkwardness, sees this as an immediate opportunity to ask her out to dinner!

Thankfully poor Ayado is spared having to respond when the bride and groom appear. Hikari’s family is there, and even Kaoru is blushing a bit while their folks are crying tears of joy, and Chika is there too, good sport that he is—heck, Hikari and Iroha owe their joyful reunion entirely to him not being a total dick for once.

I still shrug at the point of the seven-year gap, which in hindsight seemed only to inflate the drama of the lovers’ inevitable reunion, but it happened so fast it didn’t quite land. Also in hindsight, I appreciated the ambition that went into such a development.

Let’s say Hikari and Iroha didn’t break up, and Hikari stayed by her side throughout the operation and immediate recovery. I posit there’d still be plenty of drama to be mined from the period immediately following the surgery when Hikari would have to wait and see not only if Iroha would live, but would return to being the Iroha he knew and loved. That would have been a smaller-scale denouement, but still effective.

Still, had it stayed in their high-school years we wouldn’t have witnessed their wedding, or that of Ishino and Takanashi, or their little one, or see Itou ask the recently-divorced Ayado out on a date at a wedding! So I’m content to say MEDETASHI MEDETASHI.

 

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