Bunny Girl Senpai – 06 – Quantum Entanglement-by-Butt-Kickin’

On the eve of finals, Mai decides she’s used enough of the stick and whips out a carrot in the form of her bunny girl suit, which she wears while tutoring Sakuta. Why the change of pace? She witnessed him stand up for Tomoe at the station, and thinks better of him for working so hard even for a fake girlfriend. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is that Mai isn’t the slightest bit threatened by Tomoe.

The finals come and go, as does the last day of school and the start of summer break: July 18. Sakuta and Tomoe have been dating three weeks now, but Tomoe assures him she has an ironclad plan for the breakup. After a fun final date at the beach, she shakes his hand and thanks him for his help. She’ll simply tell her friends she dumped him when she realized he only had feelings for Mai—something that happens to be true.

But I knew, after that “final” date, there was no way July 19 would come. Instead, July 18 resets, as I predicted. What I didn’t expect was that Tomoe isn’t aware of the reset…or at least says she isn’t. They go on their beach date a second, then a third time.

Sakuta starts to suspect Tomoe may be lying about not knowing about the looping. It’s confirmed when she turns around and smiles at him during the principal’s address; something she hadn’t done in previous iterations. Not only does Sakuta know for sure that she’s lying, but he knows why.

On the fourth July 18 Sakuta throws Tomoe for a loop (for a change), taking her to Enoshima, the place they were originally going to go on their first date, but he’s making it their last. They climb the prodigious stairs to the shrine, and he fills out a votive tablet for good relationships. Tomoe thinks it sinful, since their relationship isn’t real, but he tells her that when they both agreed to do this, they agreed to to it all the way, even to hell.

Moreover, it isn’t sinful for Tomoe, since she’s actually in love with Sakuta. She plays dumb, but once they’re alone on the observation deck, he finally gets her to admit that she’s aware of what she’s doing, and why. Sakuta tells her flat out that whether she repeats time a hundred or a hundred million times, his feelings for Mai won’t change.

Tomoe counters that her feelings have changed. At first, she only meant for the fake relationship to help her save face. But every time she loops, her feelings for Sakuta only keep building up. A stirring monologue ensues, with Touyama Nao effortlessly bringing the feels. Finally, Tomoe does what needs to be done to move on: to stop lying to herself confess her love, clearly and loudly.

The next time Sakuta wakes up, it’s not July 18, or July 19; it’s June 27 (again). Tomoe sent them all the way back to the day she was asked out by the guy her friend likes. This time, she turns him down properly, resolved to face the social consequences…which don’t turn out to be that bad; her friends don’t end up ostracize her. Better still, she can still be good friends with Sakuta, which was always part of her plan.

As for Sakuta, he gets to redo asking Mai out, and she responds just as he’d hoped, as she steals a kiss to express how she feels about him. The next three weeks proceed as they did the last time, with the two differences being Sakuta knows what’s going to happen (even the exam questions) and he and Tomoe aren’t fake dating. They don’t have to.

It was, after all, nought but a simulation of the future, and yet still just as real as the future to come. In her traditional casual science-y explanation, Futaba surmises that Sakuta was drawn into the looping with Tomoe due to “quantum entanglement”, which happens when two particles collide. In this case, Tomoe and Sakuta kicking each other’s butts. Will this show’s delicious cleverness never cease? I for one hope not.

It certainly wastes no time getting the next arc started, as the episode closes with Sakuta meeting a middle school girl who just happens to share the name of his first crush: Makinohara Shouko.

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Bunny Girl Senpai – 05 – The Penguin that Follows the Others

I can definitely see the similarities to Bakemonogatari and Sakurada Reset here, and that, readers, is not a bad thing, at least for me. Both of those shows could subvert the concept of a Tsundere Girlfriend or Jealous Little Sister without breaking a sweat, and so too does Bunny Girl. 

In a lazier anime, agreeing to fake-date a kohai would land Sakuta in some seriously warm water, but after he explains everything properly to Mai, she withholds punishment, claiming that’s its own punishment, but really it’s a gesture of trust. Sakuta was the one and only person who never forgot her, after all (except for one brief period).

As with Araragi Koyomi, Mai can see her would-be-boyfriend is trying to help someone in need, and doesn’t judge that someone’s choices that led to them needing help. Instead she gives Sakuta her blessing, serves as the first person other than him to interact with his shut-in sister, and then bids him a good night.

However, she does warn him not to let “pretend” turn into “serious”—not to betray the trust she’s putting in him—and he laughs it off too casually for her taste, as well as mine.

The next day Sakuta is ready for his fake date with Koga Tomoe. She’s late, yawns on the train, and can’t keep her hands off her phone (he has neither smart nor flip, the damn hipster). 

When she lists the reasons for her fatigue (group chatting till 2AM; watching funny animal videos; preparing for the date “a bit”), Sakuta starts to get to the root of Koga’s frustration that led to her becoming an all-seeing, all-knowing Leplace’s Demon: She must be informed. She must join in on the conversation. She must be liked, and not seen as a loner or weirdo.

This point is driven home at the aquarium as they watch penguins: she deems Sakuta to be the penguin whom the others laugh at but doesn’t care, while she’s the penguin who follows the others in lockstep. Later, Sakuta gets more insight: Tomoe was once a “country bumpkin” from Fukuoka (hence her adorable lapses into drawl), but began a regimen of thorough reinvention and improvement to become the stylish and proper-speaking person she is.

Sakuta can surmise that she feels guilty about “abandoning” the person she is and wondering whether who she is now is who she really is, but he considers that kind of thinking “immature.” He assures her that who she is now is who she is; the culmination of choices she made and hard work she undertook. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Sakuta also shows Tomoe a few things, such as when they spot a classmate of hers from a group further down her class’ pecking order. The two of them help this classmate find a strap she lost on the beach, despite her feeling “unworthy” of someone of Tomoe’s stature wasting their time on her. Sakuta isn’t the kind of person who ranks people by their social stature; all are equal as long as they are virtuous.

When Tomoe catches a cold from falling into the water and spends a day in the nurse’s office, she asks Sakuta why he’s gone along with her “unreasonable” requests. He states it’s because she seemed desperate when she asked. Their differences in how they see the world are laid bare: she wants everyone to not hate her, while he wouldn’t mind if everyone hated him as long as there was One Person who needed him.

That one potential person Mai checks in with Sakuta on his land line phone, and he is honest about having enjoyed his “date” with Tomoe. Her nonverbal response is an enigma; is she intrigued; disappointed; neutral? She’s in Kagoshima on a TV shoot, and casually asks him to “bolt out of his house” to see her, but he doesn’t.

Futaba (who has unrequited feelings for his friend Kunimi) tells Sakuta that since Tomoe is satisfied with her current condition, there’s no need to relive it; the “demon” has found its desired path. Kunimi’s girlfriend Kamisato once again confronts him about spending time with her squeeze. Kamisato is another who only sees a ranking number hovering over someone’s head; if it’s not high enough, she wants nothing to do with them.

Sakuta tells Kunimi about the second fight picked by Kamisato, and it leads to Kunimi informing him of untoward rumors about Tomoe being loose/easy. Despite Tomoe’s efforts and veneer of satisfaction, her relationship with Sakuta has brought a different kind of unwanted attention. When Mai leaves a message on Sakuta’s phone, he moves to call her back, but stops. He has work to do.

Again, like Koyomi of the Monogatari series, Sakuta is going to perform the task he volunteered for to the best of his ability. He may not be the strongest or smartest, but that doesn’t mean he can’t outsmart someone who can easly outstrong him. As Tomoe already starts feeling the fallout by being left out of her friends’ conversation, Sakuta puts his plan into action.

That plan is nothing more than defending the honor of someone who doesn’t deserve the nasty rumors being told about her. He does so by letting the jock (who I believe originally tried to ask her out) come to him, provoking him into punching him, then getting back up, presenting himself as someone ready to throw hands, then kicks him hard in the shin.

The jock protests that Sakuta isn’t being “fair”, but…c’mon; pot, meet kettle! Sakuta ensures the exchange takes place on the train platform where the maximum number of peers watch how pathetic the jock is, giving him the negative attention he foisted upon Tomoe and then some.

In that moment, Sakuta was Tomoe’s boyfriend. She felt it; and surely he felt it too. They may not have spend much time together, but they both have a pretty good idea of who one another are. At her darkest hour, when it seemed everyone was ready to hate her (and indeed when it seemed she’d reset time to before this all happened), he was that One Person for her.

The person who’d go maybe too far to help her. The person she needed. You know…a friend! Hell, he announced in front of half the school he was a virgin for her sake. He’s a stand-up dude, and she couldn’t be blamed for falling for him right then and there.

Whether that’s precisely what happens, it’s without doubt a nudge in that direction; two people becoming a little closer through shared experiences, the most recent of which were fraught enough to require him to take her by the hand and run away, and the adrenaline of which caused them both to laugh uncontrollably as they ran.

Tomoe now understands a little more what Sakuta meant about his “One Person” position, and asks how she can repay him. Sakuta—ever classy yet also a bit arrogant—tells her she can be his friend “when all the lies are over.” The thing is, the lies may already be over, and Tomoe may just want something more than a friend. Why else would she frown at the sight of one of Mai’s TV commercials on her phone?

As for Sakuta…while he fought hard for Tomoe, there’s no overt indication he’s doing anything more or less than what he deems to be his duty, as he promised to be her boyfriend for the first term. As such, Mai may not have anything to worry about.

But he got awfully into the role on that train platform. He showed Tomoe that she only needs one person, and so far that one person is him. Can Mai—can we—trust that he’ll be able to extricate himself from a Leplace’s Demon so satisfied with him as her boyfriend?

Bunny Girl Senpai – 04 – Full Circle to Acceptable

Now that Mai can no longer sashay around in public as a bunny girl, what’s next for the show with the now-obsolete title? Well…

We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.

— Pierre Simon Laplace, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities

…Oh dear. That sounds complicated! But really, it boils down to Sakuta seemingly reliving the exact same June 27th three times, similar to the plot of Endless Eight, in which some variable has to be satisfied in order to break the loop.

With Kamijou Touma-esque luck, this phenomenon occurs the day Sakuta finally gets a “sure, we can start dating now” response from Mai after a month of telling her he loves her (which she explicitly asked for). The “Leplace’s demon” turns out to be someone else who got a confession: Koga Tomoe (Touyama Nao), the first-year who kicked Sakuta’s butt (and whose butt, in turn, was kicked by him).

The problem is, Tomoe doesn’t want to be confessed to, because the boy confessing is the object of her best friend’s affections, not her own. While hiding from him with Sakuta inside a lecturn, Tomoe panics and knocks it over, and she ends up in what looks like in flagrante delicto. Not only does the guy see it, but so does Mai when she enters the room from the other side. This is the third repeat of the day, mind you, before he got her okay to start dating.

Because Tomoe is never confessed to, June 28th arrives, and Sakuta has a major misunderstanding to clear up with Mai. He returns to Futaba, who always lends him an ear, but to the show’s credit it finally gives her a chance to be more than that, as she is harboring unwanted but increasingly strong feelings towards Tomoe’s friend, who has a girlfriend.

But there’s yet another wrinkle here: Tomoe starts working at the same restaurant as Sakuta, and her three friends show up, both to support her and to warn Sakuta that he’d better not hurt Tomoe, or else. It turns out the misunderstanding that she and Sakuta are dating is something that works to her advantage, and she begs Sakuta to keep the lie going after work, at least for the rest of the school term.

It’s a twist on the usual “fake dating” angle, because Tomoe actually has a good personal reason for doing it: as someone who was uprooted after middle school (and her accent comes out whenever she’s excited), her high school friends are all she has, and she doesn’t want to lose them just because some guy one of them likes likes her instead.

Is this the best way of dealing with her predicament? I don’t know, and neither does she or Sakuta, but he is willing to help her out, at least for now, even as he wonders how the hell he’ll be able to explain all of this to Mai. To Mai’s credit, she’s willing to hear him out. He kept his distance, and then she came to him, wondering why he didn’t come to her at once. He may not have gotten her okay on the third June 27th, but she still likes him, and wants to know what the hell was up with him and that first-year girl. I recommend the plain, simple truth…even when it’s neither plain nor simple.

The show introduces a new science-y phenomenon with the same confidence and satisfying pace as the first one, and if anything, the interactions between characters have gotten even better. They’re very natural; despite their rough butt-kicking start, Sakuta and Tomoe can still be civil, cordial, even friendly to one another.

Similarly, while Mai has every reason to be mad and/or concerned, she reaches out when he doesn’t to get to the truth of matters. Everyone just seems to have a good head on their shoulders; a rarity in anime. Throw in clean, attractive character design and animation and understated yet effective soundtrack, and Bunny Girl Senpai is firing on all cylinders.

P.S., regarding the title of this post, I really Tomoe’s aside about Sakuta’s big bold public confession being the thing that brought him around “full circle” to being acceptable, at least to the first years, since such a gesture was regarded as brave and cool. Also amusing? His genuine reaction of surprise! Hang in there, Sakuta, you’re not so bad as that rep of yours.

Grand Blue – 05 – Beauty is Only Skin Deep

As punishment(?) for neglecting her at the festival, Chisa puts the word out that she’s dating Iori, immediately making all the other guys at college hate him and wish him ill will in a very over-the-top, repetitive opening act that went on a bit too long.

Chisa does nothing to stop the false rumor—on the contrary, she fans the flames—and Iori tells the guys that Kohei is dating Azusa (making him Public Enemy #2), but they both get a reprieve when they promise to arrange a mixer for them.

Oddly, their job is made easier by the fact the legions of haters are curiously whittled down to just two ornery classmates. To that end, they beg Azusa to introduce them to other women at her college. She agrees, but only if Iori continues to act like Chisa’s boyfriend until, as she puts it, Chisa “accepts it.”

With Iori’s promise secured, Azusa introduces her kohai, none other than Yoshiwara Aina, who the lads find extraordinarily adorable when she’s not wearing the thick layers of makeup that earned her the unwanted nickname “Cakey.”

Aina has wanted to join the diving club anyway since the festival, leaving the tennis club full of fakes who treated her like shit. Despite calling her cakey and drooling over her non-cakey appearance, Aina is still willing to scrounge up three of her friends for the mixer. But she also gives Chisa one hell of a sidelong glance; I believe Chii-chan just got some competition.

The quartet of lads, among them a virgin who will sleep with any girl as long as they’re a girl and he can sleep with her, are shocked to find Aina has somewhat tainted the mixer by giving her three friends as well as herself the same Cakey treatment, giving them the appearance of four clowns.

But if the girls are clowns, the guys are circus animals, constantly jockeying for attention and braying and snorting at one another whenever more than one of them focuses on one girl. Like the lecture hall scene, it gets a bit repetitive.

A look at a selfie shows them one of the girls is quite attractive behind the makeup, and they all go after her, but when Kohei asks her if she’ll come to his place later all four girls retreat to the restroom.

Iori uses the time to inspire his men, only to steal the show, thus invoking the other lads’ collective ire. Kohei breaks a mixer taboo by blurting out that Iori has a girlfriend (something he can’t deny lest he break his promise to Azusa), but the girls don’t even care; they already know that fact.

Later, the girls laugh off the mixer as an entertaining lark, likening it to going to the zoo. But Aina, ever the romantic, still ponders whether the person who saw through her cakey makeup and helped her out when she was down in the dumps could be a good match for her. No doubt she sees a decent guy beneath Iori’s own thick layers of alcohol-soaked machismo.

Grand Blue – 04 – Trying Hard in a Bad Way

There’s no diving in the ocean this week, but Chisa, Iori and Kohei all “dive into” a new experience: being on stage, in front of hundreds if not thousands of spectators. But first, they help man the Okonomiyaki stall at the Izu Spring Festival.

While on a break, Iori fails to clear up Asuza’s misunderstanding about him being bi, but only when Asuza tells him how nice it is to have someone else to talk to about it. This is how you know beneath all the drunken boorishness Iori has a good heart: while the truth is always better, it also hurts, and he doesn’t want to hurt a friend if he doesn’t have to.

However, he does want to talk about it with Chisa, so on the next break the two are left alone, and I love how they work the griddle like a single highly-polished unit, dazzling the customers—but they don’t notice how skilled they’re being! Unfortunately, not much comes of the talk; Chisa assumes Iori is nervous because Asuza is so pretty, not because Asuza thinks he’s bi.

Asuza and her sister also insist she wear something more appropriate than her regular street clothes for the 4PM women’s pageant. Iori knows Chisa well, and so knows when Chisa is nervous. She stiffens up, and her aura and responses initially come off as cold and curt. They want to help her, but he and dating-sim expert Kohei only have bad ideas that make things worse.

When they try to make her smiling by smiling at her, but their grins come off as creepy and off-putting. Ditto posing shirtless as a club and raising a banner professing their love for her.

Finally they agree to throw a bunch of bouncy balls on the stage that will flip her skirt up and show her bashful side. They get it, but it’s bashfulness cut with seething rage. Iori knows he went too far, and only went as far as he did because he thought everyone would do it.

While Iori is hiding from Chisa’s wrath with Kohei, the latter is pounced upon by another woman who was part of the pageant; one with makeup so thick they use the nickname “cakey” on her. She asks Kohei out; Kohei hesitates and she storms off.

They go to the drinking party hosted by the rugby club. Chisa initially forgave Iori for the upskirt incident, but when he mentions how he’ll buy her sexier underwear, he’s back on her shitlist, and she intends to make him suffer with two liters of shochu.

While getting some air, Iori and Kohei again encounter Cakey, whose real name is Yoshiwara Aina. She’s deep into her own cups, and proves a very…emotive drunk. But she also provides the lads with a clearer picture of her deal; she was accepted into the tennis club of beautiful people, but basically only so they could laugh at her, and when they got bored, they told her she could leave.

Iori and Kohei decide to use the pageant as a means to not only raise Aina’s spirits, but to give the cocky blue-haired tennis captain a dose of his own medicine. And yet by getting swept up in this new mission, they forget about Chisa.

Kohei sets a trap by confessing to Asuza on stage; the captain does the same, only for the lads to reveal “Asuza” was really Iori in disguise. In other words, they balance the distribution of laughter, disproving her belief it was eternally directed at her.

All’s well that ends well, as Iori and Kohei may well have made a new friend who is grateful for what they did for her…but the partying that follows leaves the lads horrendous wrecks, unable to protect the winner of the women’s pageant—Chisa—from another round of advances from guys, which she hates more than anything.

Up to this point, I had felt like Chisa was too often being defined through Iori, as Iori’s love interest. But Asuza makes clear to the other guys why exactly Chisa is upset: Iori and Kohei worked hard, but for the other girl, not her. In a rare instance of seeking/expecting protection from them, they let her down.

And so just as the tennis captain got his comeuppance, so must Iori. Upon receiving her award for winning the pageant, Chisa delcares to all assembled that she’s off the market: Iori is her boyfriend. Iori can’t protest, because he’s passed out.

In effect, Chisa has made delicious lemonade with the lemons she was dealt: Iori will repel other guys for her. He’ll be her shield. Considering how popular the pageant made Chisa with the guys, it won’t be an easy job; Iori may well prefer the tranquility of the ocean floor!

Ushinawareta Mirai wo Motomete – 06

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This episode went down a totally different route than the one I expected, but that’s okay; as Commodus said, “I rather enjoy surprises” — the good kind, anyway! Rather then delve back into last week’s mysteries, the show shifts its gaze to Hanamiya Nagisa-senpai, who’s been a bit of a mystery all her own, having been relegated to a supporting role in the ensemble thus far. This week she gets top-billing alongside Sou, and it isn’t wasted.

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As the club members are talking about their futures after school — something that doesn’t particularly interest Sou — we learn that while Nagisa’s family is fine with her going to college, they’ve still arranged for her to marry the heir to another powerful conglomerate, Reito Hikaru. In a show about lost futures, Nagisa never really had one of her own making to begin with; she was bred to grow up quickly and realize her responsibility as a family bargaining chip; a key resource. This is something no one else in the club has to worry about.

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An an effort to assert her own will, Nagisa decides to blow off an arranged meetup with Reito-san, instead hanging out with Sou and learning that they’re alike: like her, he’s so content with the time he’s living on now, he’s loath to even think about his future, let alone set it in stone. When Reito tracks them down by chance, Nagisa pretends she and Sou are dating.

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This is a common trope in anime but its particularly effective here, and not just because Nagisa isn’t a tiresome tsundere. “Cornered” by Reito, the ever-shrewd and quick-thinking Nagisa uses Sou as a shield. But she doesn’t mistreat him, and in any case, Sou, who is so flustered when Nagisa says she loves the club and again when she praises him, is just fine hanging out with Nagisa a little more today.

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Before he knows it, Sou is in one light, cordial pissing contest after the next with Reito, and while Reito seems to be into the “competition” just as much, he’s a total gentleman throughout, especially where Nagisa is concerned. That’s just as refreshing as Nagisa being so awesomely un-cliche in the way she carries herself and acts towards her two suitors.

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Of course, Reito eventually tells Sou he knows he’s not really dating his fiancee. He knows because he’s in the same position as Nagisa: a bird in a cage, raised specifically to forge bonds with other powerful groups. As such, he’s well aware that such birds must assert their own wills from time to time, even if they’re bred to always fall back in line in the end. He is willing to give his life for the good of his family, and he’s confident that Nagisa feels the same way.

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Sou is not so sure, though on the rooftop in private, Nagisa says she’s used to it, that there’s nothing to be done. This is bigger than her and Reito, and their futures are fixed so that their respective businesses will thrive long into the future. Sou doesn’t like the resignation one bit, and asks Nagisa to please keep being the freewheeling person he knows and loves, because he and the gang will be there to help her if things don’t work out. Also, after she made him blush all day, finally Sou gets her to blush a little herself, having told her exactly what she wanted and needed to hear.

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Then Reito drives Sou and Nagisa home in his E65 BMW (Not a Toyota Century? Not Old Money!), Sou, returns to his dutiful “fiancee” Kaori, like a salaryman having returned home from a long day with a tough client at the office. Only the office was an arcade and his “client” was a friend who needed his support.

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We learn the episode’s cold open, in which Nagisa bathes with Yui, actually took place after the long, surprisingly emotional day we just witnessed. Nagisa confides in Yui that today she learned that the future isn’t quite as locked into place as she’d thought; no doubt a point Yui would agree with!

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Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – 05

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Aki and Marin reminded us so much of futaba’s superficial friends of Ao Haru Ride, I thought Erika would eventually go on a similar “realness” trip and dump them, but to the show’s credit, they’re keeping them around, only their role has changed. Now instead of being slightly annoyed by them talking about their boyfriends, Erika is jealous of their happiness with pliable boyfriends, not hard to crack nut like Kyoya.

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Jeez, has it only been five episodes? Things are moving along so well on Ookami Shoujo. I feel like most shows like it take an entire cour to get to where Kyoya and Erika are romantically even though there’s still much work to be done and fresh obstacles on the horizons. I say “work”, but as the next episode music suggests, Erika’s struggle is a battle, one to wrench open Kyoya’s heart and conquer it.

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Making that happen starts with believing it can be done, because despairing at his imposing gates, believing their impregnable-looking surface, will only lead to defeat. While going over her ideal Christmas (which is pretty standard: cake, fried chicken, gifts, being together), Kyoya complains on more than one occasion that “women are a pain”, and Erika agrees. He’s not wrong; women are a pain…but so are men. Especially Kyoya.

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After touching cheeks during their staged Christmas selfie she promised to send to Aki and Marin (a promise she cares about keeping) and going to a cafe to warm up, Erika gets a stomachache, then asks Kyoya a direct question in an attempt to quell it: “What am I to you?” Is she nothing but a useful servant? A convenient toy? Does he care about her? Erika is essentially scrambling up Kyoya’s ramparts here, blind to all the defenses he has waiting for her at the top; defenses she’s seen before.

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Her own defenses drop completely when Kyoya gives her precisely the perfect response of her dreams: He likes her, always has, but has been to shy to come out and say it, and the nervousness that builds from that pressure led to all of the nasty teasing. When she asks him to have a silly cliche Christmas night with her, he agrees without complaint, saying that whatever will be fun if it’s done with her.

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I’ll admit, my defenses were lowered too, this went on so long. Then evil shadows form on his face and he admits to just messing with her, calling it a “monkey show” and mocking her gullibility.  In other words, he pours hot pitch down upon her, and she falls back down to the base of the wall. Kyoya gets a glass of ice water to the face. He’s a terrible piece of trash, Erika shouts, and she hopes he dies, storming out in a public display.

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Men aren’t just a “pain” to women (and vice versa) because they make you jump through hoops, or interpret things without sufficient information from your perspective: they’re a literal emotional and physical pain. A pain in the gut, A dull burning in the heart. Kyoya cuts deeper there than he ever had before, and I feel Erika’s pain clearly, having been there as we all have.

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Here’s the maddening thing about Kyoya: he cruelly passed his sweet and sincere confession off as false, but it wasn’t the content of the confession that was really false; only the florid presentation. Confessing like that isn’t Kyoya’s style; it’s far outside is comfort zone where he picks on and teases and runs down Erika because, almost like a little boy who likes a girl, he doesn’t know how to process what he’s feeling, and that frustration causes him to lash out. It’s pretty textbook stuff…but Kyoya isn’t a little boy anymore, and he knows he went to far.

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Erika’s parents are really chill. They didn’t even make the couple keep the door open!

But in fixing things, which is what he wants it wouldn’t do him any good to pretend he’s comfortable (yet) saying the kinds of things that made Kyoya so happy she cried. No, he atones in the most Sata Kyoya way possible: announcing himself as her boyfriend to her folks, coming into Erika’s room, demanding an apology for her throwing water and wanting him to die, and slapping a “collar” – or rather, a cute gold necklace, around her neck, so everyone knows she’s his. He resorts to his code.

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BAAAAAAAAAW. So f-ing cute. And hey, we finally learn Aki and Marin’s boyfriends are REAL!

The impregnable defense Kyoya maintains is as false and deceptive as the psych-out that got water thrown in his face. Erika hasn’t busted open the gates to brought her main force in yet, but she did sneak over the walls, and found that she’s always had a place there. He won the battle in the cafe, but she won the battle after that, when Kyoya comes to her and, in his way, apologizes and tries to make things right. Like me, Erika chooses to believe what Kyoya said, because that was him going out on a limb, before retreating and laughing it off as a joke.

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But, yeah, the war isn’t over. Post-credits, we see Kyoya returning home to a ringing phone. After the answering machine prompt, the caller hangs up without a word. Who was this? Kyoya’s parent? A stalker or ex-girlfriend-gone-bad? My two guesses: either a red herring cliffhanger to be quickly resolved next week (less likely) or…trouble (more likely). Trouble for Kyoya, trouble for Erika, trouble for Kyoya+Erika, and trouble for me.

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Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – 04

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“Back again so soon?”

It’s one thing to end the third episode with a confession, regardless of result, so much sooner than I expected. It’s another still for Erika to cross paths with the girl who was at Kyoya’s place before him, hears that “he’s done with girls because he has a dog now”, then rushes back for clarification! This is just outstanding initiative from Erika, who won’t let things stand the last time she was this door. But while she gets him to believe she really does like him, she doesn’t get a straight answer about his feelings for her (though the “got a dog, done with girls” comment to that other girl made it pretty clear to me).

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Letting a soccer ball hit Erika head-on, then punching the one who kicked it…that’s Kyoya for you

With the answer still ambiguous to her about whether Kyoya likes her in the same way, she decides to operate under the assumption he doesn’t…quite yet, and that it falls to her to do something about it. Enter Kyoya’s friend from middle school, Hibiya Takeru, who comes in and immediately makes a big impact on the show.

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Likely still too sore over Kamiya’s deception to talk to him, and with Sanda never talking to Kyoya, she needs an ally, and finds one in the muscular, boisterous Takeru, who is very gung-ho about helping her crack the infuriating nut that is Sata Kyoya. But enthusiasm and good intentions don’t necessarily translate into success, and they don’t here.

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Backfired!

In short, Kakeru give Erika terrible, terrible advice and goofy stunts that would never work in a million years. It might even be that not allying herself with Kakeru could have made her better off, because all his advice seems to afford her is the opportunity to make a fool of herself in front of Kyoya again and again.

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The contents of Kakeru’s mind would make great van murals

That said, I’m glad Erika now has another friend (and a guy, at that), who she can talk with about these things earnestly. His ideas for her may be cockamamie, but she carries them out to the letter regardless; after all, love makes fools of us all. She’s so desperate for results, she pretty much ignores the logical side of her brain telling her this is all a waste of time, effort, and dignity.

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Your advice is crap! GIVE ME MORE!!!

Fortunately for us, watching Kakeru and Erika in action also happens to be a hoot and a half. Not only because they have great comedic chemistry, but because they’re both romantics, and feed off each other’s energy where someone like Kyoya either sucks it all up or deflects it entirely. Kakeru may be a a bit of a Mimbo, and more chivalrous and devoted to Erika’s cause than the average joe would be, but he’s a heckuva lot more normal than Kyoya in how he interacts with Erika. He and Erika are on the same level.

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That’s refreshing after seeing Erika play the servile supplicant so frequently, even though I know it’s been her choice to do so. You probably know where I’m going with this: the more I watch Kakeru and Erika together, the more I’m thinking they’d make a better couple, to the point even both of them seem to get that vibe. Kakeru uses this for his last, and perhaps riskiest idea yet: calling both Erika and Kakeru out, saying he’s fallen for Erika, and forcing Kyoya to decide right then and there.

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Oh, man, look at that! It’s a triangle! So on-the-nose. But hey, it’s also covered in little “cracks”, which means it’s a brittle triangle. While the prospect of Kakeru being a legitimate rival for Erika’s heart, the reality is, he hasn’t really fallen for her. The triangle is only rhetorical, and that’s how Kyoya sees it, which is why his seemingly cold, assholish response makes perfect sense: He tells Kakeru to “do what he wants”, even though it breaks Erika’s heart right then and there, because he knows Kakeru isn’t serious. In other words, “Nice try, but this isn’t going to work on me either.”

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Erika’s heartbreak is short-lived, as Kyoya chases after her and gives her a real arm (not a plastic skeleton arm this time), and essentially tells her she’s just going to have to keep working at it if she really feels the way she does. He’s essentially asking for even more emotional commitment from her…but he is asking for it, about as nicely as he can. As he says to Kakeru, “I’ll decide when I’ve fallen for Erika.” Neither Kakeru or Erika can decide. He’s asking Erika to buy into the self-importance he’s placing on himself, like a leap of faith, not knowing where it will lead, but looking forward to seeing what happens.

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And just to put a final cork in the short-lived Kakeru+Erika route, in a post-credits scene Erika meets Kakeru at the riverbank to politely reject him; naturally, he forgot he confessed to her for real. He may not be a love interest, nor a particularly useful ally in Erika’s fight for Kyoya. But he is still a new, real friend she can treasure. And real is always valuable.

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Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – 03

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This show has improved in each of its three episodes, which is all the time it takes for Erika to listen to Sanda’s advice and follow her feelings honestly and confess to Kyoya. This is in part accomplished by the tried-and-true and nicely-executed “nursing ill love interest to health” scenario, which reveals to both Erika and Kyoya that their exchanges in this “fake” relationship are growing alarmingly genuine.

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For one thing, Erika doesn’t come to Kyoya’s house to nurse him back to health because it’s part of her duty as his dog, or to keep up appearances with their fake relationship. She does it because she’s worried about him, and because she wants to. And while she’s not thinking about it this way at all, there’s nothing like a bad cold to reveal the true nature of an “adversary”, if you will.

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As ever, Erika is seeing sides of Kyoya he keeps tightly guarded from everyone else, which makes her feel understandably, well…special. But again, that feeling, and falling even further for Kyoya, is a by-product of her helping him, not an intended reward. That utter lack of ulterior motive is as baffling to Erika as it is vexing to Kyoya, considering their history…but to paraphrase Sanda, the heart is not the head; it don’t have to make sense.

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If this episode accomplished nothing else (which isn’t true, it accomplished a lot), it afforded us the resources to compile our most comprehensive analysis of Kyoya to date, confirming many suspicions with facts of his life. His lack of a strong mother figure speaks volumes about how he deals with women, and the loss of a beloved dog in middle school indicates a hesitancy to commit or form strong emotional bonds with anyone else, fearing more pain and anguish.

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Between his mommy/women/abandonment/commitment/self-esteem issues, Kyoya is a far more wounded and fragile individual than he lets on, and Erika has still only seen the slightest glimpses. She’s privy to the same indicating facts we do, but she’s so emotionally compromised herself at the moment, she hasn’t painted as clear a picture of him yet.  She also saw his “non-Prince Smile”, which is to say, a genuine smile bourne from real happiness. Put incredibly simply: he likes dogs, ergo he likes Erika, who is his “dog” at the moment.

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Being with Kyoya makes Erika want to stop lying and be his real girlfriend, along with wanting to take care of him when he’s sick. Being with Erika is like being with no other woman in Kyoya’s life. When Erika suddenly stops by his apartment one night to confess properly, Erika is in a very emotionally malleable state, and Kyoya…well, he’s just had a visit from a pretty lady with whom I’m sure he demanded the least emotional connection possible. And yet the timing feels right.

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I always appreciate a guy or girl with guts who confesses earlier rather than later, regardless of the consequences or the fact neither they nor I usually like the response, but that’s to be expected: an early confession that ends in rejection or ambiguity usually means the show to follow will be about clearing up the ambiguity, and if and how the initial rejection is ultimately overturned, resulting in romantic victory.

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Make no mistake: Kyoya isn’t questioning Erika’s feelings for him because he doesn’t want them, nor because he doesn’t have the same feelings for her. He’s questioning them because he doesn’t think he deserves them, and probably also fears losing her once he has her. While he’s antagonized and insulted Erika plenty, he’s doing it in hopes of keeping her at a safe distance. The one he’s really torturing is himself. We’ll see how right or wrong I am about all of this in the weeks to come. Until then, great progress was made here.

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P.S. The peppy ending theme, “Wolf Heart” by Oresama, is a toe-tappingly fun, well-produced, and addictive piece of pop that’s also a nice salve for the sting of that failed confession.

 

Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – 02

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Pretending to be dating the school Prince has its benefits, like when Sata comes with an umbrella to take Erika home in front of a jealous Marin and Aki. But its immense costs of the lie are starting to mount, and I’m not just talking about her self-esteem: half of the school is in love with the Prince, and all agreed to a “look but don’t touch” policy to keep the peace.

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Between the resulting abuse from that at the continued humiliations she has to suffer when no one’s looking, from holding his umbrella for him to serving as a shield for car mud, to having to actually fetch a stick, one would imagine Erika is getting tired of this charade, which would mean Sata is winning. Her real friend Sanda tells her to just give it up and find a real boyfriend, or at least look for viable alternatives to the Black Prince, or otherwise quit griping.

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Erika for her part is aware of the shabby treatment she’s enduring, but part of her sees it as a battle of wills: she knows Sata is going the extra mile to torture her, and she’s not going to surrender so easily. Sanda perhaps rightfully sees it as simple masochism on Erika’s part, but she doesn’t actually enjoy being treated like this. She’d like a little romance, like the kind she still sees in Marin and Aki’s relationships. (For all we know, they’re both lying too!)

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She finally experiences some, or at least a very realistic simulation of it, in her interactions with Kimura, after surveying the field of guys and finding them lacking (an amusing mini-montage). Because Erika hasn’t so much as fallen for a guy before, she’s particularly vulnerable to deception, and Kimura fools her hook line and sinker, along with us, right up until she admits to him she’s not really Sata’s girlfriend.

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Since the whole point of Kimura being nice to her was to steal her from Sata for revenge, he drops the act like the flipping of a switch, even rubbing it in what a cheap moron she is for falling for his ploy. That’s when Sata reveals he’s been stalking them the whole time (!) and despite saying he hates violence, clocks Kimura. While he’d never admit it, Kimura did succeed in making Sata jealous.

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This is where the show makes the argument that despite the fact both guys objectify and use Erika by exploiting the weaknesses in her personality, Sata is the lesser of two evils…and in this, it mostly succeeds. Sata, after all, doesn’t seem to be maintaining the boyfriend fiction for any ulterior motive I’m aware of; his behavior towards Erika is a lot more sincere, even if he does code it with unfortunate pet dog references.

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There’s also the notion floating around that while Kimura hurts Erika for no real reason other than spiting Sata, Sata’s dog-and-master act seems to come from a buried desire to reform Erika. He’s not saying it, but his actions scream “Things don’t have to be this ridiculous. If you don’t like the way things are between us, you have the power to change it. His latest heroics have her heart starting to skip for him; will she garner the will to abandon her lies and games?

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It still seems there’s a legitimate risk in doing that, as Marin and Aki would surely not take kindly to learning she lied (again, even if they’re lying too) and she’d still have the scorn of every girl who likes Sata. And even after all that, Sata might reject her, like he rejects all girls. The risk is acceptable, and preferable to continuing to maintain falsehoods that open her up to intentionally shabby, degrading treatment. But that doesn’t make Erika’s choice any easier.

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Space Dandy 2 – 10

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Yet again, Space Dandy demonstrates that it can handle a conventional human love story as deftly as the most tripped-out existential alien fantasy adventure. Of course, even the alien tales are based on elements of the human condition, but sometimes it’s nice for Dandy to have another actual human to relate to in a universe full of non-humans.

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The only two recurring human characters are Honey, with whom Dandy has a more playful, less personal relationship, while Scarlett has been teased before as a more serious, mature potential mate for the Dandy, and despite the fact she looks down on him, it’s clear she’s simply doesn’t have that many other choices out there. Space is so big, the saying “Not even if you were the only man in the galaxy” is a claim that can be legitimately tested.

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That’s exactly what happens when Scarlett asks Dandy to enter into a contract whereby he pretends to be her boyfriend, a plot line normally reserved for high school romantic comedies, but which can be an endless font of said comedy in the right hands, and Space Dandy’s are almost always the right hands. But because this is also a sci-fi show, Dandy can also blend elements of that genre; specifically, Gundam.

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In a bit of a masterstroke, Scarlett’s ex Dolph is a Gundam pilot who utilizes its capabilities to stalk her incessantly. It’s a hilarious look at the possible downsides of putting emotionally weak or stunted young men in such powerful machines. The close-up of the mecha’s red-glowing eyes being repurposed from igniting fighting spirit a to creepy obsessiveness.

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Going to Planet Trendy, which has any possible date setting trendy young couples crave, allows for lots of different environments in which Dandy and Scarlett carry out their week of fake romance in hopes Dolph will get the picture and go away. He doesn’t, but sticking him in the corner of every idyllic romantic setting makes for great visual gags.

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Also deliciously ironic: while Scarlett is behind the desk of the Alien Registration office, Dandy only ever has failure to show her, but while on their dates, he keeps ending up “hunting” (i.e., being chased by) legit rare aliens. It’s almost as if Scarlett is his unwitting muse. This sudden rise in fortune for Dandy mostly irks Scarlett because he’s doing this stuff on their dates, when he’s supposed to be looking after her.

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This episode is packed with so many great moments, like Dandy and Scarlett parting ways at the end of the day, only to come running at the sound of her scream. Turns out it’s only a spider, but that spider is horrifying, and in the act of neutralizing it, Dandy destroys her entire house, after which the two can only laugh about it. It’s nice to see Scarlett’s hair down, armor off, and cheeks flushed.

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Eventually, Dolph can’t take it anymore, alights from his Gundam, punches Dandy out, and gets way too close to Scarlett. Dandy realizes that the only way to get rid of him for good is to kiss her, and that sends Dolph into a fury worthy of a climactic Gundam episode, only he’s arrested, jailed, and has a restraining order filed against him. With Dolph off her back, all that’s left is to end her arrangement with Dandy, a day early, too…but their parting is melancholy, and both end up back at home feeling miserable that it’s over.

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The icing on the cake of this episode is one last gorgeously staged romantic interlude, where the two meet at the bar like they were scheduled to, only Dandy is just a minute or so too late, and so the storybook happy ending doesn’t happen. Things go back to normal with Scarlett at the office and Dandy showing up with crap, but they exchange looks that indicate that things are at least a little different.

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Nisekoi – 03

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When a young Raku met that little girl crying about the sad ending to the book she otherwised liked, he didn’t laugh or call her a crybaby. He changed the ending to a happy one. Back in the present, as Onodera lists all the reasons Chitoge (and she, secretly) would fall for him: he’s always helping others when he can. Contrary to the stereotype of the yakuza scion being an entitled prick, Raku is a kind and decent person.

Similarly, Chitoge comes off as a haughty, popular girl who would be the queen of the school, but is actually shy and insecure, unsure of how to make friends. However, since Raku and Chitoge are wound up so tightly by their new forced relationship and all the surveillance that comes with it, neither of them have been able to see who the other person really is. Then Raku, to his surprise, finds Chitoge writing profiles of classmates in a notebook, and to Chitoge’s surprise, tells her he did the same thing, having amassed a wealth of information, and offering to share it.

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So Raku learns Chitoge’s attitude is just as much frustration over the fact her desire to live a normal life as a normal student isn’t working out; while Chitoge learns that Raku can be a kind and generous guy when he’s not putting up a defensive front. Both are under a lot of stress, making it hard to look past themselves and see the other struggling beside them. There’s also Raku’s issue of still being in love with Onodera and Onodera actually being his Happy Ending Dream Locket Girl, but neither being able to say anything on that topic to one another, in large part due to the new situation with Chitoge.

We were hoping there’d be some movement here this week, but even when Raku see’s Onodera’s strange key, he doesn’t connect the dots. So far this is a drama of omission, with both characters being held back by their own hesitation. Doubtless Onodera’s window on Raku will close the longer she hesitates, but as long as she thinks Raku and Chitoge are in love, she won’t budge, as she’s the kind of person to put others before herself. So we’d say the ball is in Raku’s court. If he really loves her, he won’t wait and risk falling for Chitoge. He should take a page from his past self: if you don’t like the ending, change it.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

Nisekoi – 02

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One would hope that in most political marriages, the participants would at least be given a certain amount of time to think about what it means. Raku and Chitoge aren’t so lucky; within moments of learning they’re to be a couple for the sake of peace between their families, they’re tossed into the deep end, and must immediately prove they’re hot for each other in front of contingents from both sides that are itching to start that war.

Under these circumstances, and in spite of the general…er, simpleness of the assembled soldiers, acting like a convincing couple would be a challenge even if they didn’t rub each other entirely the wrong way. So they aren’t that convincing, and it plants the seed of doubt in Chitoge’s own bodyguard Claude. When Chitoge and Raku are all but forced into their first date out on the town, there’s a wonderful progression of layering struggles the two of them must face.

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For one thing, neither of them have the slightest real-life experience with romance. The closest Raku has is his childhood promise to his mystery sweetheart combined with his ideal date with Onodera which plays out only in his head. When he uses that as a template, but Chitoge’s reactions run totally counter to his fantasies at every turn, from the roast of the coffee beans to the genre of film they go to.

While we’re sure the date is no picnic for Chitoge, the fact remains, Raku is going through all this while still harboring strong affection for Onodera. The girl he wants (and who seems to want him) is slipping through her fingers; in the ultimate torture, he has to at least half-play along as Chitoge pretends to be his honey in front of the gang, the yakuza, and Onodera, lest the date and the whole charade fall apart and war break out.

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It’s an unenviable position, to be sure. We genuinely felt for both him and Onodera: lovers fated to reunite but held apart by cruel forces outside their control. That being said, even if she hadn’t just been told Raku and Chitoge were a couple, we’re not sure she’d have not lied to Raku about the locket, which she kicks herself for later. She should, because there’s every reason to believe Raku and Chitoge will eventually warm to each other. Right now their mutual hate is bourne out of clinging to the hastily-formed ideas about who the other is, supported by cherry-picked observations.

In reality, they simply don’t know much about each other. After one date, that’s changed: Raku learns Chitoge is fine with dwelling on the past if it’s romantic, and sees her for the gorgeous girl she is; Chitoge learns that Raku can be chivalrous, attentive, and contrite when necessary. They’re starting to see things in each other they didn’t see earlier because those things didn’t fit their preconceived notions. Logic suggests the more they learn about each other, the easier their fake relationship will go, until one day, it won’t be fake anymore. That would be good for their mutual sanity, and certainly good for their families…but it would suck for Onodera.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)