Osamake – 04 – Piling On

Osamake reiterates the fine mess that has been made as each vertex of the Shiro-Haru-Kuro love triangle wallows in misery in their dark bedrooms. Haru blames himself, Kuro blames Haru, and Shiro blames Kuro for the mess, but they’re all pretty much equally responsible.

Tetsu doesn’t make things easier for any of them the next day at school when he announces that his video of the whole horrific fiasco was watched by over a million people on “WeTube”, though his primary goal wasn’t to humiliate anyone but promote Haru’s potential comeback.

The video has the unexpected effect of attracting another woman from Haru’s acting past: the now famous and beloved star Momosaka Maria, who stakes out her territory immediately by coming into Haru’s class and glomming onto him. When Shiro and Kuro try to complain, she dismisses them as, respectively, the woman he used to like and the woman who rejected him about as publically as anyone could reject someone.

Bottom line, Momo-chan considers them to be in Haru’s rearview mirror, while she represents his future. Haru was this little sister figure’s first love, and she’s determined to hitch her star to his wagon, so to speak. After she departs for the time being, Tetsu treats Haru to an apology pizza, only to reveal it was procured by his “jack-of-all-trades” fixer, Asagi Rena, who smells “good money” on a Haru comeback.

But Rena’s intro is interrupted by Shiro, who with her friend Meiko’s help invites Haru to come to her house sometime, ostensibly to meet with her father again. When Kuro tries to intervene, the mere sight of her triggers Haru’s trauma over being rejected and he literally turns into a tiny monkey hiding behind Shiro, who lets Kuro have it on his behalf.

Haru doesn’t like how things ended with Kuro there, but he’s more distressed about the mess he helped make as a result of not fully understanding how Kuro felt despite being so close to her for so long. He talks with Tetsu on the phone about it, unaware that Tetsu has him on speaker and Kuro is listening. Tetsu asks what Kuro is going to do, but she doesn’t respond.

Meanwhile, Momo continues her campaign to conquer Haru and cut the other two out of his life by letting herself into his house and cooking him all his favorite dishes, which she learned of from his late mother way back when. Haru realizes that the press crush and online calming must’ve been Momo’s doing, while Momo admits that the video was the trigger to finally approach him about rejoining the agency where they first met, now run by Shun Hardy, son of its former boss, “Auntie Nina.”

She has two cards: one for Haru and one for Kuro, but then this development is interrupted by another: Kuro’s three sisters are at Haru’s door to report that…Kuro has developed amnesia. As sudden bouts of amnesia (especially those unexplained by an accident or other physical trauma) are my least favorite anime plot device, I sincerely hope this is another ruse. But even if it is a ruse, it’s simply one too many things going on. The gorgeous mess has become an ugly one.

Shiro’s continuing attempts to make Haru fall for him again, the viral video kickstarting Haru’s acting career, the sudden appearance of Momo and Rena, whatever Tetsu still may be planning, and now Kuro apparently has freakin’ amnesia? It’s needlessly, discouragingly too damn much. Combined with the increasingly apparent meh production values, the shine is starting to wear off Osamake. I’m morbidly curious to see what becomes of this amnesia issue, but the show needs to settle down and focus soon, or I’m out.

Osamake – 03 – Flipping a Switch

The day of the cultural festival and its all-important confession session have arrived, and Sueharu is ready to do battle with Mitsuru for Kachi’s heart. But just as Sueharu is causing Kuro to blush by complimenting her cute café outfit, he gets an unexpected visitor: Shirou, the kid he hung out with when he was little.

Of course, we know it’s just Kachi, with her seiyu Sakura Ayane only making her voice a little more boyish. To her surprise and delight, not only does Sueharu remember who she is, but remembers the promise he made to appear in something she wrote. Shirou reveals she is and was Kachi all along, and asks that he call her Shiro, and she’ll start calling him Su-chan again.

Kuro overhears this all, and isn’t ready to give Sueharu up just yet. Sueharu may not have known until now that Shirou was Kachi, but he knows Kuro well enough to know when she’s seeking attention, since she goes off on frustrated rants to him and only him. Everytime Kuro and Sueharu share the screen, you know you’re in for some wonderful character work.

Unfortunately their time together leading up to his big performance ends on a bitter note, as Kuro decides it’s necessary to “hit the reset button” on her and Sueharu’s relationship. She commemorates the moment with a slap, saying whatever he does with Kachi isn’t her concern. Though she runs off, she can’t help but turn back when Sueharu calls her name, and gives him just the saddest, loneliest smile as she wishes him luck on stage.

With that, the confession festival begins, and by God what a cur-sed exercise. Sure, it works out for one guy confessing his love to a girl who feels the same way, but seriously, if this is a real thing in schools these days I’m glad I’m not in high school anymore. I’ll confess to someone in private, thaaaaaanks.

The resulting song-and-dance-off between Mitsuru and Sueharu is suitably anticlimactic. I’m no dance instructor, but it looks like they’re both dancing like Elaine from Seinfeld, and their mouths rarely, if ever, move while they’re supposedly singing. Still, the scene is notable for not going the way I thought, with Sueharu suffering a sudden bout of stage fright and ruining his big chance, as several flags set earlier suggested.

I made special mention of Kuro’s parting smile immediately before his performance because that’s what I believe caused Sueharu to flip a switch of his own, and I’m not talking about going into stage mode. While he woke up that morning intending to confess to Shiro, his interactions with Kuro before and since have finally gelled into the realization that she is the one most important to him.

When Sueharu confesses to Kuro instead of Shiro, it’s a tremendous shock for both girls. Shiro is shook, while Kuro is caught so off guard she impulsively and very publically turns him down, still sore from when he turned her down.

As we learn in the aftermath of this total romantic fiasco when he and Tetsuhiko do the postgame show, Mitsuru wasn’t an asshole after all! Shiro was never dating him; he simply went along with it when she lied and then was too proud to take it back. Mitsuru intentionally chose a song that Sueharu was far better at performing, because he selfishly wanted to see Mitsuru back on stage.

Both Mitsuru and Tetsuhiko did all they could for Shiro and Sueharu, respectively. But when Sueharu changed on a dime who he’d be confessing to, he sealed his fate; Haru was under no obligation to say yes, due to a part of her wanting revenge against him for taking her for granted and pining for Shiro. Shiro, in turn, could have gotten Sueharu if she hadn’t lied about Mitsuru, which caused him and Haru to plot revenge against her.

Finally, Kuro played herself, because in hindsight the satisfaction she got from rejecting Sueharu simply wasn’t worth it. Now she regrets rejecting him, just as Shiro did after learning him quitting acting wasn’t his fault. The timing of all three sucked, resulting in all of them being alone and miserable.

And as complicated as this whole business felt, this is the last time it’s just Sueharu, Kuro, and Shiro, as a third girl is introduced post-credits, discovering her “Onii-chan” has returned to the stage. The messiness has just begun!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Osamake – 02 – The Cost of Assumptions

Maru Sueharu was indeed a famous and talented child actor, while his dad was a stuntman and his mother an “unsuccessful” actress. Abe Mitsuru asks why Sueharu suddenly quit acting six years ago, but I doubt the answer matters much to him, as once Mitsuru found out Sueharu liked Shirokusa, he decided to date her for the express purpose of humiliating him and proving that he “won”. I take it back; this guy’s a dick!

Mitsuru also makes clear his intentions to officially confess to Shirokusa at the confession festival, in hopes of squashing Suehar’s first love for good. Why he cares so much about Sueharu is anyone’s guess, but the bottom line is that if Sueharu will need to make a big splash at the festival to foil his scheme.

Despite Kuroha loudly proclaiming she and Sueharu are now dating, Shirokusa still agrees to write a script for a play Sueharu will perform for the festival—provided he’s the star and she gets properly compensated. She then contributes to his persona non grata status with the boys by exchanging NINE info with him.

Kuroha, who we learn is one of four beautiful Shida sisters who live next door to Sueharu, stops by to check on him. Once again the two exhibit a warm, lovely lived in chemistry. While she’s organizing his books, a photo slips out of one of them: a photo of him as a kid with someone who is clearly Shirokusa.

Sueharu, who calls Shirokusa Kachi, doesn’t make the connection to his old friend “Shiro”, because he is very dumb and possibly face-blind. Right on cue, Shirokusa then calls Sueharu up, and they have a playful little chat to arrange a place and time to meet and talk about the play. After the call, Kuroha knows it was Shirokusa on the line, and is worried about Sueharu jumping back into acting after so long.

She also makes clear that even if it doesn’t go well it doesn’t matter, because he has other qualities besides acting ability, and she reiterates that she likes him. When she teases his red face, he raises a mirror to show her hers, then tries to go further by taking her by the chin and teasing a kiss, only to chicken out when she was ready to go.

I realize I said this last week, but it sure would be a lot easier if he got over Shirokusa and dated Kuroha for real! I know, I know, love polygon romcoms need these kinds of bumps to provide drama. Speaking of drama, on the day Sueharu practices on stage with Tetsuhiko, he suddenly suffers what I’d describe as a panic attack and passes out.

He wakes up in the nurse’s office, with Shirokusa by his side, ready to begin their meeting when he’s ready. She admits she decided to write the script for him because she’s supporting him getting back into acting. As far as payment goes, she wants neither cash nor groveling, but an explanation for what happened to his acting career. Sueharu proceeds to tell a sad tale of his mother getting the role of his mother in the second season of Child Star, the show that made him famous.

But his mom put so much into her role, she ended up hitting her head while filming a scene where her character was to be hit by a car. The show was going to be cancelled, but Sueharu insisted the show go on. But after that second season it went on indefinite hiatus, along with his career. He couldn’t tell anyone at the time what happened due to a gag order.

Sueharu’s story moves Shirokusa to tears, and not just because it’s a sad story, but because it throws off her whole revenge plot against him—which predates his by six years! As expected, the “Shiro” Sueharu and Kuroha saw in the photo was her. She was spellbound by his performances on TV, and had him invited to her house to hang out. I particularly love how in this flashback her younger self looked his way with her head sideways on the desk, just like she did in the present when he asked her to write him a script.

Back then, she asks if she could write something for him to act in, and he was enthusiastic about it. He thus became her muse, as she began to write prolifically. But when he stopped coming by without explanation and his show ended, Shirokusa took it as a personal affront. She dedicated to becoming stronger, prettier, and famous to get back at him for leaving her.

As she walks home after their meeting, Shirokusa is in tears, because he’d gone from her first love to her hating him, and now she’s back to loving him, especially knowing what happened wasn’t her fault, or anyone’s. My questions are, is she in cahoots with Mitsuru or are they using each other to make Sueharu envious, and will this revelation lead to her cancelling her vendetta?

Whatever path she takes, Sueharu and Kuroha are proceeding with the play in which he upstages Mitsuru and confesses to Shirokusa. But Kuroha doesn’t trust Shirokusa and worries that this is a trap by her and Mitsuru to kick him as low as he can go just when he’s riding high. Nevertheless, Sueharu wants to give it a try.

While Kuroha is worried about him, as a childhood friend would, she’s also supportive, telling him that even after all this time his natural talent is still there, and he’s a better actor than he gives himself credit for. As long as he’s acting for someone, she knows he’ll do great. Ideally, that someone is her!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl (Bunny Girl-Senpai Movie) – Heart of the Matter

From June 2019 (a much simpler time) comes the continuation of the Bunny Girl-Senpai anime, the broadcast of which ended without answering key questions about the nature of Sakuta’s first crush, Makinohara Shouko (Minase Inori). Don’t bother watching this movie without having seen the anime, my reviews for which you can read here.

Our titular Rascal Sakuta is actually doing fine with Mai as his busy actress/model girlfriend Mai. But one day a college-aged version of Shouko arrives at Sakuta’s apartment, ready to move in with the man she loves. Anxiety about the future from a much younger Shouko from the fourth grade led to her Adolescence Syndrome that created her future self in the present.

The younger Shouko reveals to Sakuta and Mai that she’s been in and out of the hospital all her life with a bum ticker; she wasn’t even expected to survive past middle school, hence her anxiety. The older Shouko was created to live out all of the plans her younger self couldn’t write down in that elementary school “future plans” exercise.

Those plans include not only graduating middle and high school and being admitted to college, but meeting the boy of her dreams, confess to him, and eventually marry him. For all those things to happen, Shouko needed a heart transplant, and while she’s doing a “trial run” wedding at a venue in a gown, Sakuta notices a scar on her chest and realizes it was he who gave her that new heart.

According to Rio, Shouko’s will was likely split between one who was resigned to dying young and one who sought to continue her life. Now the future Shouko tells Sakuta about a car accident that will claim his life and allow his heart to be donated to her. She gives him the choice between spending Christmas Eve with her or with Mai.

The wounds on Sakuta’s chest are the result of the contradiction of his heart being both in his chest and in that of the older Shouko. Now that Sakuta knows one version of his future and the doom that befalls him, it means he can act to change it. Preventing his accident spells doom for Shouko, but letting the accident happen means leaving Mai all alone.

Sakuta is desperate to try to have his cake and eat it to, but the bottom line is he simply can’t. And while it’s a tough choice, it’s not an impossible one. He visits the younger Shouko in the hospital to tell her that the both of them have done all they can.

For her part, Mai wants Sakuta to choose a future with her, and follow the older Shouko’s instructions to celebrate Christmas Eve at home where it’s safe. She even tries to lead him on a train journey to take them as far away as possible from a situation where she’d lose him, urging him to share the pain of choosing to live on with his girlfriend.

After paying young Shouko one last visit (she’s in the ICU), Sakuta has a change of heart, especially when he realizes Shouko knew he’d pick Mai. He rushes to meet with Shouko instead, and is almost run over by a van, but he’s saved by Mai, who dies in his place. This is a lot of story to keep track of, but it all unfolds relatively organically, and it’s all appropriately heartrending to behold.

Sakuta lives out a few more days after this Bad Ending partly in a numb daze, partly wracked in grief. His chest wounds are gone, which means Shouko never got his heart, and seemingly the entire region mourns the loss of the famous actress who was taken from them far too soon.

Sakuta wanders off, asking someone, anyone to save Mai, to not let things end this way. Then he’s approached…by Shouko. He may not have given her his heart, but she received Mai’s in secret and survived. Now she’s come to help him visualize the time they’re in as the future so he can travel back to the present and save Mai himself.

Sakuta falls asleep in a bed in the school infirmary and wakes up on Christmas Eve. He manages to find someone who can see and hear him (Koga Tomoe, who had a dream about him needing her in just such an occasion) and then reunites with Mai, the loss of whom is still so raw and fresh that he loses it upon seeing her.

Sakuta tells his past self that there’s nothing he can do for Shouko and that any attempt will cost Mai’s life, but as Sakuta is a stubborn ass, he doesn’t initially hear him. Meanwhile Mai tells him she was resolved to rescue him all along, and knows the other Sakuta would never save himself if it robbed Shouko of her future.

When the fateful moment at the icy intersection occurs this time, Sakuta is rescued by his future self (wearing a bunny mascot suit so his self won’t recognize him and cause a paradox). The future Sakuta then vanishes, merged with the present Sakuta…and Shouko vanishes as well. He then returns to a relieved Mai’s side.

Sacrificing Shouko still doesn’t sit right with Sakuta, however, so he and Mai agree to try to do what they can to help her, starting by visiting her in the ICU where she’s near death. But young Shouko tells Sakuta not to worry about her anymore; she’s seen everything that’s happened in her dreams, and intends to create a future where he and Mai won’t have the painful memories of her.

All the way back in the fourth grade, Shouko manages to fill out her future plans, resulting in a future where Sakuta and Mai indeed do not remember her, and seem to be far more at peace for it. They visit a shrine for the new year, and Sakuta prayed for less weird things to happen to him…a bit ironic considering that’s how he met Mai!

All the same, while discussing a movie in which Mai stars in a role identical to Shouko’s near the beach where Sakuta once dreamed of his first crush, he and Mai spot a girl running along the sand with her parents. It’s a young Shouko, alive and in good health. Suddenly memories of Shouko flood back into Sakuta’s head and he calls out her name…and she calls out his.

Dreaming Girl’s ninety minutes equate to five new episodes and a final arc that ties all of the anime’s storylines togethers. It’s a satisfying conclusion to as well as a dramatic elevation of the TV show; an emotional roller coaster that knows just which ways to twist and turn for maximum heart-wrenching. And it’s absolutely essential viewing for any Bunny Girl fan.

Domestic na Kanojo – 07 – Advance and Retreat

We begin with Natsuo and Hina going on a “date” to Kamakura. The teahouse lady mistakes them for a couple. They see the sights and have a lot of fun; their chemistry is unassailable. Then they head for the beach, and Natsuo brings up Hina’s “child” comment from earlier.

Hina admits she was just trying to say the thing that would hurt Natsuo most, since she was already in a relationship with Shuu and she and Natsuo were now siblings. Then she tells him how she met Shuu: like Natsuo with Hina, he was her teacher and first love.

When her friends shunned her for being too cute and flirty, he was her only friend. When they met up by chance years later, he was wearing a ring, but she couldn’t turn him or her happiness down when he said they should get together.

When Natsuo hands her his newly-completed novel, whose heroine is modeled after her, he confesses he’s been in love with her for a long time. Hina’s reaction follows the general pattern of their incident in her bedroom: she draws closer, taking his hand, and proposing they go out together, keeping it a secret from their family and everyone else.

But then, as when she basically teased Natsuo’s lack of experience, Hina brings the hammer down, taking Natsuo a bit too far into the surf to make a point: for them to be together when they’re family will most certainly backfire stupendously. She likens it to double suicide, be it socially or literally.

Natsuo knows it’s not possible, but merely asks they stay in the surf a bit longer so he can hug her and cry it out. That night after they get back home, Hina reads the whole book in one night, and it brings her to tears. Through the pages she can probably feel Natsuo’s longing, because it’s exactly how she felt with Shuu. She can hardly blame him for something when she knows full well we aren’t in control of who we fall for.

Things seem to return to a friendly sibling relationship between Natsuo and Hina, but Rui’s crush on Natsuo continues, culminating in her visiting Natsuo’s room one night. She notes that on the day they met (and did it), they never actually kissed. She wants to try doing so now.

Despite things being cordial with Hina, Natsuo is still a wreck, and it’s at least partially his desire to prove Hina wrong about something like them being utterly impossible that leads him to acquiesce to Rui’s request. To hear Rui so earnestly describe how calm and at rest she felt while kissing him, well…it certainly complicates matters for young Natsuo.

At this point Miu seems to be the best bet for him in terms of romantic interests who aren’t related to him, while Momo would obviously welcome his company anytime. Still, with Rui stating her intentions to keep continue their kissing sessions on the downlow, it’s clear that it’s not going to be as easy as going out with Miu or Momo.

After spending the evening with Natsuo and Rui tutoring them for their upcoming exams, Rui brings up Ashihara and his apparent rapport with her, intriguing Hina. Later that night, while perhaps going to visit Rui’s room, Natsuo sees that Hina’s door is open.

Before he can knock, he hears a…a noise, and when he peeks through the crack in the door, he sees Hina pleasuring herself, letting out Shuu’s name when she finishes. I’m not sure why she didn’t completely close the door, but never mind; the deeply private moment Natuso witnessed can’t be unseen or unheard.

As disturbing as it was to see Natsuo linger by the door as long as he did, he saw in Hina what she sensed in him: an unbearable longing for the one they love. She may have broken things off with Shuu but she’s most definitely not over him. No doubt that will evoke some guilt in Natsuo, who, along with Rui, gave Hina such a harsh “him or us” ultimatum.

Kuzu no Honkai – 04

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Whew…well that was a properly intense episode. In it, we finally enter the head of Minagawa Akane and find out what makes her tick and what she says gives her joy in life: being desired by men. She started back when she was in school, stealing away her best friend’s crush even though she didn’t even like the guy.

Indeed, she’s only interested in guys other girls desire; it’s how she gauges their value. It’s as if she only derides pleasure from her contact with men if she knows it’s pleasure being taken from other women; depriving them of it.

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Her latest victim is Hanabi, but what’s so insidious is that like her best friend’s crush, Akane wouldn’t even care about Kanai if Hanabi didn’t love him. Hanabi is unknowingly fueling her own despair by making it so clear to Akane that she’s into Onii-san. It makes Akane the villain – if you’re rooting for Hanabi. On the other hand, if you’re rooting for the one person who seems to be confident in what they’re doing, Akane’s your girl.

Akane believes it’s Hanabi’s own fault she’s in her predicament, but not because Hanabi has never gathered the stones to confess to Kanai, but because Hanabi should be on same side of this game. She kinda already is; Moca essentially feels for Mugi (whom Hanabi has) what Hanabi feels for Onii-san (whom Akane has). Akane’s become quite adept at taking full advantage of the situation, but Hanabi seems to lack the will.

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We’re then thrust out of Akane’s head and into Kanai’s for the first time, and while I didn’t quite fathom the scope of Akane’s true personality before it was unveiled to us, Kanai is pretty much what I expected.

Kanai is normal, boring, and enough of a romantic to throw caution to the wind when someone like Akane appears in his life, even though a part of him knows (and is correct that) she’s too good to be true.

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Demonstrating how experienced she is at this kind of thing, Akane executes a perfect reenactment of the way she hurt her friend when she separately tells both Kanai and Hanabi to be in the music room after school, then lets Kanai do the rest, confessing to an utterly disinterested Akane as Hanabi watches helplessly.

Akane’s eyes narrow and turn to see Hanabi, and then the episode fades to black in a spine-chilling close to Akane’s half of the episode. This show excels at many things, but it’s particularly good at transitioning from one “soliloquy” to another and keeping the flow moving. The fantastic score and cinematography pulls you into its dark soup of an atmosphere and makes it impossible to break free.

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And we’re only halfway through! Good lord, the first half felt like a complete, and amazing, episode. Thankfully, it isn’t all downhill from here. In fact, Akane’s actions drive those of Hanabi, the main POV of the second half. They drive her to finally emulate the one who hurt her.

I’m not talking about getting hot and heavy with Mugi again, to Moca’s dismay. Seeking comfort from Mugi wouldn’t be possible without telling him what she knows about Akane (the poor bastard). So she heads home alone, in tatters, then realizes she’s been followed…by Ecchan.

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Ecchan still wants Hanabi…very much so. So when Hanabi, in tatters, impulsively embraces Ecchan, then worries how it will feel to her, Ecchan assures her it’s all good. Hanabi this way is better than no Hanabi at all. Besides, Ecchan, makes no apologies for taking what she can when the opportunity arises, almost as payment for the pain Hanabi’s caused her to that point.

As they start having sex, Hanabi finds herself in an Onii-chan fantasy, but it’s soon broken by her waking senses making her see, smell, taste and touch Ecchan, and only Ecchan. Ecchan is ready to stop at any time, but Hanabi won’t tell her to, so she doesn’t. Ecchan wants Hanabi to be filled with her, and Hanabi lets her fill her void.

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The experience, however, leaves Hanabi cold and alone, walking home in the rain, with only her force ghost as company, taunting her for destroying a friendship, notifying her that she’s actively taken advantage of someone’s feelings for the first time, and congratulating her for being scum just like Akane.

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Her force ghost doesn’t tell her anything she doesn’t already know, it is her who is talking to her, after all. She’s having a conversation in her head, and the fact this part of her is mocking her means that she is no match whatsoever for Akane right now. But she wants to be a match, and she’s going to work towards it with everything she’s got. Dark shoujo.

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In one last scene, Hanabi confronts Akane openly about being loved by people she doesn’t even like, and how it can be so fun for her. Akane’s response? There is no greater feeling than being desired by men. Whether she likes them or not is irrelevant, as long as they’re liked, preferably loved, by someone.

It’s a “get with the program” kind of line; one suspects if Hanabi somehow fell out of love with Kanai there’d be nothing left of him to interest Akane. You can have it like i have it, she seems to be telling Hanabi, as long as you’re able to redirect your energies.

Indeed, Hanabi already started with Ecchan, but if she’s serious about wanting to be a match for Akane, she’s got her work cut out for her. And I’m not saying she should! Shit’s already pretty damn heavy. Everyone has their limits. She may just not be cut out for it.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 03

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Just as Moca has a legitimate reason for loving Mugi (they’ve known each other a long time), Ecchan has one as well: Hanabi saved her from being assaulted on the train. When she ends up sharing Hanabi’s bed, Ecchan isn’t planning to do anything, but she just can’t hold back, and takes a gamble…one that doesn’t work out.

Hanabi thinks Ecchan is pretty, and she clearly values her as a friend, but when things get physical…it just doesn’t feel right for Hanabi, and not just because Ecchan is a girl. There’s a heavy weight she feels from being the object of Ecchan’s desires, accompanied by an acute, paralyzing fear.

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We learn a little more about what sent Mugi head over heels in love with his tutor Akane; he had his cherry popped by a beautiful senpai who later dumps him and breaks his heart. There’s every indication the girl he was with treated their fling as just a fling: casual, secret, fun while it lasted. Then she moved on.

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We see this unfold in what turns out to be a sexy dream Mugi wakes up from with an erection, just when Hanabi sneaks into his room for some contact. He initially stops her from touching him, worried he won’t be able to stop if they cross that line, but Hanabi doesn’t want him to stop, so she continues.

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Just as he was once so inexperience with his first, Mugi no doubt sees a little of himself in Hanabi’s inexperience, but after she expresses a bit of smugness, she starts to tear up, because she’s realized something: what she gets from Mugi she can’t just get from anyone. She didn’t get it from Ecchan, whom she was too scared to touch. Mugi is different.

Then and there, he’s someone she can see falling in love with, even if he isn’t Onii-san. After all, if she came on to Onii-san, who’s to say he wouldn’t feel the same tense, uncomfortable weight she felt from Ecchan? This is Hanabi taking stock of what she has in Mugi and thinking about her best interests.

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Later that night Mugi and Hanabi go to a family restaurant for dinner, and who do they run into but Akane-senpai, with a young-looking guy who definitely isn’t her brother who is really into him. Talk about awkward. Akane tries to be friendly, but the guy drags her away, clearly eager to continue their evening unfettered by her “students.”

The next day, Mugi tells Hanabi he recognized the guy as another student she’s tutoring. It’s all too clear he was more than that. Hanabi can’t believe how blind love makes Mugi, and is frustrated they don’t see things like this the same way, to the point she worries they weren’t as close as she thought.

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But then she realizes of course they’re not that close, at least not yet: their relationship, such as it is, has only just begun, and both of them agreed at the start they’d see other people in each other. Seeing Akane out in public with a different guy threw that plan into chaos for Hanabi.

She decides what she’s feeling now is something approaching hatred for Akane, which isn’t allayed by their brief, uneasy encounter in the schoolyard. Hanabi asks Akane (still wearing the same clothes from last night) if that guy was her boyfriend; she said it was just a friend, and that they can talk about it later. Assuming neither of them want Onii-san to find out about them being with other guys, Hanabi contemplates her next move as Akane, her back turned to her, cracks a wry, knowing smile.

Kuzu continues to excel with its serious, weighty but deft internal drama (not of the melo- variety) and quietly steamy scenes of sensuality (one of which ends with the mundane practicality of having to wash dirty clothes). We’re with Hanabi and Mugi all the way as they endure and explore their pain and pleasure; their playfulness and despair; their confusion and their revelations.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 06

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We continue an in-depth journey and the running self-commentary of Rei’s life, including the recent slump that has kept him from advancing, even though as one of five players ever to become pros in middle school, he’s expected to become a master like the other four at some point.

Because Rei is still so young, his childhood was disrupted by such tragedy and trauma, the bad times always seemed to overshadow the good, and his “stepsister” Kyouko dug into him so deeply with hurtful words that sounded like the truth, Rei is left unable to process why he’s so unhappy and unable to move forward in life.

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Shogi, so far, hasn’t been the answer. Sure, he threw himself into it with all he had and has been celebrated as a prodigy, but when he’s not playing or training, he has a tendency to shut down. He doesn’t have friends (who aren’t also shogi players).

He barely goes to school, and keeps to himself when he does (I can’t recall even seeing one of his classmates). He admires master Touji Souya, who despite being as old as his teacher still has the face of a teenager; as if his distinguished, decorated career has caused time to stop.

Touji is the titular “God Child”, but I wonder if Rei looks up at him as an ideal to follow, or something he can never attain. Then again, he doesn’t know of Touji delved into shogi not out of love, but out of necessity, as he did. Maybe time stopping isn’t a good thing.

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After nearly a whole episode of navel-gazing and listing all of his problems, Rei and we get a welcome respite, as he runs into Hina in town and treats her to a McDonalds shake. It doesn’t take long for the kind and lovable Hina to notice Rei is feeling gloomy, and invites him to dinner back home.

Hina makes Rei feel ashamed and pathetic for worrying so much about his own issues when Hina is sitting there, a middle schooler worrying about a high schooler, putting his feelings before her own (then crashing and burning when her crush the baseball ace shows up).

If Rei’s going to move—if he wants to move—in life, hanging out more with the Kawamotos seems the way to go.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 05

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For the last four episodes we’ve watched Rei in a really nice situation with caring loving people, and he still seems a bit uncomfortable, like he’s out of place. We’ve also seen glimpses of his Dark Past, but they come fully to the surface this week, as having to pick up Momo (and then tend to her kid wounds) triggers a memory that haunts and will always haunt him.

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Rei’s whole goddamn immediate family went and died instantly when a drunk driver killed them. They left the world, and left him with the rest of his blood relatives, who are portrayed as almost comically awful.

Despite having the means to adopt him, one of his aunts suggests an orphanage, far more concerned about her husband, the younger brother, taking control of the hospital with Rei’s dad out of the way. They’re a real great bunch, I tellya!

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Rei is saved by his dad’s old shogi rival, Kouda, and by a lie: he tells Kouda he loves shogi and wants to pursue a life of shogi, even though he only played shogi as a way to bond with his busy father. Kouda is kinder than any of Rei’s surviving family, but his kids, who are also trying to enter the world of shogi, are not.

Well, at least Kyouko does; the girl from that violent-looking flashback last week. She and her little brother Ayumu are quickly surpassed by Rei, who rises fast in a field he felt he had to pretend to be interested in to be adopted.

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Rei also blames himself for being a “cuckoo chick”, edging out the rightful offspring of the parent out of the nest; tearing a family apart after his was taken from him, like some kind of unconscious revenge/paying backward. Did I mention this is all very horrifically depressing?

I’m glad we’re finally getting Rei’s story of why he is the way he is in the present, but it kinda smothers you in a dark grey cloud of awfulness. The one bright spot is Momo in the first half, being her adorable Momo self. The fact we can understand what the cats and dogs are saying also lighten things up a bit.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 04

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Hina’s longtime crush, a baseball ace, has a Big Game coming up, and she wants to be there cheering him on, with a big, fancy bento in hand for when he’s done. She becomes so consumed with what to make she doesn’t realize she has no cash.

Rei buys her the food, but despite waking up early, Hina has problems with the tricky dishes she’s making for the first time, forgets to pick out what to wear, and is ultimately late.

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The previous night, and at the Big Game, Rei sees a side of Hina he’s never seen before: a side that seems to be in love. “Love” seems to be a triggering word for Rei, because he suddenly gets a black-and-white flashback to a very unsettling scene where a woman—his mom?—removes his glasses and gets on top of him. Clearly Rei’s concept of “love” is distorted in some way, but there are no details beyond this glimpse.

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As for Hina, as happy as she looks during the game, when it comes time to deliver her bento, the object of her affection is surrounded by teammates and other girls, and they all go off to eat dinner. He doesn’t even notice Hina’s there.

I’m not sure if Rei has just been hanging out watching Hina this whole time, but when she tries to throw out the bento, he stops her, and suggests they go home and eat it together. Once there, Akari, who Hina believes doesn’t know what she’s going through because she’s so beautiful and good at cooking.

But the truth is, the very same thing happened to Akari once, which is why she gave advice to cook something simple. It’s the same advice their mom gave her. Basically, fellas: after a ball game, make sure to look around for girls with handmade bentos, and accept them before letting yourself get whisked away to other things.

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Part Two of this week’s episode dispenses with any other hints as to what that black-and-white flashback was all about (aside form what I saw it as, which was some kind of abuse), and takes a much lighter tone as Nikaido  and Rei run into the sisters while in town grabbing lunch.

Nikaido proves to be a popular guy with Momo and Akari. Momo likens him to Boboro, a popular children’s character who is big, fat, soft, and intelligent; a comparison Nikaido gratefully accepts. Rei also laments that Momo seems happier with Nikaido than she ever did with him :(

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As for Akari, we learn that she harbors an unreasonable adoration for “soft fluffy things” as much as Working!!’s Takanashi loves small cute things. It’s the reason she brings in animals, and Reis, who are skin and bones, and fills them up until they’re her preferred soft and fluffy.

Nikaido is the pre-done deal, and when he asks for a less salty, fattening menu, she takes it upon herself to pull out all the stops for his sake, ignoring Rei, the cats, and Rina (the only Kawamoto not enchanted by Nikaido’s presence).

This episode makes Nikaido more likable, as it shows he’s a decent, kind lad who knows how to go with the flow. Sure, he can be a little pushy with Rei, but his insistence that he and Rei are best friends is in no way insincere or mocking. He’s a nice guy. A nice guy under constant surveillance from his butler!

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 05

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As we return to Yakumo’s saga, which is already suffused with a constant underlying melancholy borne from the knowledge these events have long since passed, a young Yakumo is desperate to be good at whatever it is he’s doing, be it rakugo or a more straightforward play.

To that end, he’s far more concerned with practicing than women, who a drunk Sukeroku brings home one night. It’s just the latest iteration of something Sukeroku has done since he and Yakumo first met as boys: trying to get him to loosen up.

Sukeroku believes you have to be “a little stupid” in order to survive in rakugo, something Yakumo is not only virtually incapable of being, but would be betraying who he is if he tried. The audience will always know if his heart isn’t in it. We’ve seen how bad that can go!

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Speaking of his heart, it’s in a state of turmoil over the prospect of not being “cut out” for rakugo, turning an intimate little make-out session with Miyokichi into a pity party. For her part, Miyo loves Yakumo’s rakugo, which should tell him it’s worth pursuing.

Yakumo remains depressed, but puts his head on Miyo’s shoulder when she offers it. It’s notable that things don’t ever seem to go anywhere sexually between the two, something Miyo herself might’ve confirmed by telling her senpai essentially “it’s not like that;” in other words, platonic.

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Nevertheless, it’s a strong, warm friendship, and Miyo is excited for the lovely, elegant Yakumo to be portraying a man disguised as a woman for the play, and offers her services as makeup artist gratis. She does good work; the transformation is striking.

Sukeroku laughs his ass off when he first sees Yakumo’s somehow even foxier fox face, when he sees how terribly nervous his bro is (to the point of threatening to flee), he tells him to steel himself, knowing full well with his looks and talent he’ll have the audience eating out of his hand.

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Sukeroku turns out to be exactly right, which shocks Yakumo. When he starts feeling the rapt audience following his every move, his confidence builds more and more. His progression from initially jittery suits his role as meek ‘wife’ to the more boisterous Sukeroku’s ‘husband’, and makes it that much more of a shock when the time comes for him to reveal he’s a guy. His change in voice, posture, and level of dress; it’s all pretty much perfect.

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He leaves the stage to enthusiastic applause, a very different man than the one he walked onto it as. He was depressed, but now he’s seen with his own eyes and by his own efforts that there is hope after all, not only in theater but in rakugo as well. His performance showed everyone out there what he’s capable of, and the elegant “racy stuff” he can do so well; as effortlessly as Sukeroku pull of his unwashed galoot bit.

Finally, to once again remind us we’re only looking into the past, of two people who were still so close but whom we know will one day be separated once more and for good, the theater manager takes some candid black-and-white photographs of the two brothers, preserving the joy and victory of that night for posterity.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 04

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This week we stop in on Bon and Shin as they’ve moved out of the master’s house and into their own apartment together. Shin has a job serving women he charms without trying and pinches every penny, while Bon spends all his non-rakugo time drinking away his earnings.

Shin continues to struggle to find his own rakugo, while Shin oozes confidence on the stage and has every crowd before him eating out of his hand immediately, including Bon. He’s even given himself a new name: Sukeroku. These two continue to be completely different in every way, yet they remain friends.

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It’s also this week that one of the few things that could strain their long-standing and deep friendship/brotherhood is formally introduced – by their master, no less. I speak of the lovely Miyokichi, whom the master has taken as a side-project, getting her a job as a geisha, likely in exchange for, ahem…other favors.

Miyokichi takes an instant liking to the serene, doll-like Bon, and isn’t subtle about her desire to meet with him alone, using a dance lesson as an excuse. Even in a show chock full of marvelous voice acting, Hayashibara Megumi (who voiced both Ayanami Rei and Faye Valentine) stands out; every line from those red lips oozes sex appeal.

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I’d say Bon was immune to her charms, either due to having lost his first love many years ago, or due to being so preoccupied with how he’s going to continue to do rakugo whilst his roommate rubs his apparently effortless yet immense success in his face every day. But he isn’t immune. Few would be.

He returns to Miyokichi’s (a rare subject that shuts Shin – sorry, Sukeroku, up), where he gives her a dance lesson, plays the shamisen while she sings (beautifully), and share some sake. Bon becomes more and more desirable as the evening progresses, as Bon’s not the typical kind of man she deals with, which must be refreshing.

Bon leaves before things get that far, but when she insists he promise to return again, he cannot resist drawing her closer. I don’t think the master introducing him to Miyokichi was an accident. Bon needs to learn to loosen up and have a good time if he’s to make any headway with erotic rakugo. What better way to do than in the company of a beautiful, complex, charming woman who may well actually want him?

Miyokichi, like his rakugo, is something Bon is still trying figure out. But if Sukeroku’s reaction to his interest in her is any indication, this is probably going to lead to some conflict between the brothers.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 03

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SGRS has played a clever trick. I thought this show would be about Yotarou, the reformed thief, but he hasn’t been present the last two episodes. Instead, it’s been young Yakumo’s, or I should say, Bon’s show.

And that’s totally all right, as he puts immense craft, care, and detail into his quietly epic life story, a large part of which contained Sukeroku (AKA Shin) who is absent from the present world. In hindsight, that absence and the events that let up to it (which have yet to be told) are given greater weight with each new section.

Bon is struggling with the same boisterous kind of rakugo Shin performs and gets reliable laughs from, and having to balance school means he feels like the gap between them is growing. So Shin suggests he try rakugo that makes the most of his weak voice: bawdy and erotic stories. On that note, Shin suggests they go to a brothel and get laid…once they have the scratch, of course.

In the midst of hanging out offstage with the “house band”, Bon, who had no prior interest in or time for girls, meets Ochiyo, a girl he becomes interested in and spends lots of time with. The warm fondness and melancholy in present-day Yakumo’s voice makes the couple’s inevitable separation really sting.

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That hurt is somewhat mitigated by present-day Yakumo keeping Ochiyo’s promise to never forget her, because here he is telling us about her! The reason she has to leave Tokyo is basically the same reason people start leaving Tokyo in droves: World War II is about to break out. The dread of that fact is underlined by highly effective use of loud white noise, which swells and cuts out suddenly, creating tension and foreboding.

The government starts censoring rakugo just at the time Bon sees the raunchier stuff as his way in, almost as if the universe were blocking his path. Soon it’s just the master and his two students, and he only takes Shin with him to a kind of USO tour in Manchuria, sending Bon and his bad leg to the country with the mistress. But the night before Shin leaves, Bon has his brother pinky-swear that they’ll see each other again.

Bon gets a job in a factory, meets another nice girl, and settles into a provisional life, a life without Rakugo he never thought he’d have to deal with until it came. Sure, he’s not exactly on the front lines or anything, but his suffering is borne of not being able to take the path he wishes due to, well, history itself.

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And yet, he never fully gives up on rakugo. He stuffs the books in the closet, but he still tells stories to himself when he feels down. He finds the rakugo heals and fuels his troubled heart; it gives him vitality and hope. And then, one day, just like that, the war is over.

More white noise, and a few well-chosen sights like a cloud in the sky and the sight of a radio broadcasting the emperor’s surrender mark that new event. When it comes to depicting the parts of the war we know well, the show doesn’t show much, because Bon himself doesn’t see any of the horrors.

More than anything, both Bon and the Mistress miss Shin and the master terribly, and even some time after the war continue to live in a kind of limbo as they await a return that may never come. The good news is, rakugo roars back into popularity, including the kind best suited for Shin, who gets a promotion and gets very busy very fast.

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He gets so busy, he’s totally caught off guard when one dusk, just as suddenly as Ochiyo, and country life, and the war, and loneliness, came and went, Shin, Bon’s brother and other half, returns. Five years had passed mercilessly, heartlessly, but by the end of it their promise was fulfilled and they were together again. They ease back into theater life; rakugo life; and peace. Only now, no doubt, with so much time spent apart, this family understands and appreciates far better what it means to be together.

And speaking of reunions, who should show up at their door but Miyokichi, a beautiful young woman. The brothers have competed in rakugo, and endured separation for an entire war’s length. Will their next trial be a love triangle?

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