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.

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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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Ao Haru Ride – 02

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When I think back on it, this show’s first episode had its protagonist in a very dark place. Of course, high school can be a dark place for a sizable chunk of youths; a place where you compromise and do what you have to do to just get through it; where you take advice given years ago about “always getting along with your friends” and you make that happen at any cost, because the alternative is being all alone.

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In other words, it’s a pact you make with yourself, and it’s a pact we thought Futaba would continue to honor for some time, both much to our chagrin and, evidently to Mabuchi’s as well. While he’s still hard to read, his words to Futaba about Asumi and Chie being “friends in name only” created a small fissure in the “High School Armor” she’d spent so much time and effort polishing; getting lost in its sheen and forgetting important things like emotional connections and trust.

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Those cracks spread when Futaba finds Makita—a girl who acts all cutesy around guys like she used to and pays for it by having to eat outside in the cold, alone—to have a perfectly reasonable explanation for why she acts the way she does—because that’s just who she is. She’d rather bear the petty ire of her peers than cease being her natural self. She doesn’t deserve the treatment she’s getting, but no one said high school was fair.

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That’s when Futaba, with her now badly-cracked armor, sits down with Asumi and Chie, and she suddenly can’t suffer any more bile directed at Makita. The real Futaba bursts out of the tatters of that false armor, giving her “friends” a thorough piece of her mind, thereby losing them in the process. But good riddance: real friends should be able to be themselves around one another. Futaba couldn’t be that around them, so they weren’t meant to be friends.

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She realizes this too, so it doesn’t hurt much when her relationship with the other two girls is officially rescinded. But while she lost those two vapid gossips, she gained a lot more: the respect, attention, and even affection of Mabuchi Kou (who she finally starts calling “Kou” rather than Tanaka, since that’s his name now), a new, real friend in Makita…and our regard as well. I gotta say; girl did good this week. I’m glad Kou realized that too, giving her a cute hug through the window, shielding her teary-eyed face from passersby.

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Her gesture to cast away the artifice of “getting along at any cost” and its fallout may have been modest in the grand scheme of things, but right here and now, in the jungles of high school, it was a significant, life-altering achievement. And no doubt Mabuchi was a catalyst for that change, whether he intended to be or not. I’m now hopeful there’s something about him that she can fix…no need to keep things one-sided!

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Ao Haru Ride – 01

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Futaba and Tanaka were both quiet, shy, unassuming middle school students. Then Futaba assumed that Tanaka would show up for their date after she yelled “I hate all guys!” in the hallway. He didn’t, then suddenly moved away, because of HER his parents moved. Even though nothing ever came of it, Futaba maintains Tanaka was her first love.

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Fast-forward to non-watercolor present, where Futaba is in the third term of her first year of high school. Little does she know her beloved Tanaka is not only there, but has been all year; he’s just not “Tanaka” anymore, having recently escaped from a secret lab that experimented on him with drugs and implants changed his name to Mabuchi after his parents divorced.

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He’s also taller and hunkier, which is one reason why Futaba never noticed him until the third term. Another big reason is that she wasn’t looking for him, and she was too busy reinventing her personality to fit in with her peers. When she was cute and girly, she got dumped on, so now she maintains a tomboyish persona so as not to offend anyone and risk their ire.

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It’s served her well, but it still seems like a goofy performance she shouldn’t have to force herself to do, let alone get used to, to the point when she can no longer separate who she is from who she’s pretending to be. And while she just noticed Futaba, he’s known she was there all along, and while he feigns indifference, he seems to disapprove of what’s she’s doing.

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While we know a lot less about what makes Mabuchi tick, it’s clear he made some changes of his own, ostensibly to fit in better with his peers. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was caught off guard by her hopeful, excited reaction to finding out he was “Tanaka.” His cold attitude could be more a sign of fluster and frustration it took this long than genuine acrimony.

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The road ahead for these two looks rather rocky; with Mabuchi making some very definitive statements like “that was in the past” right out of the gate. The fact of the matter is, Futaba’s pleasant, if somewhat forced, high school life has been upheaved, and I’m sure the more attention she pays to a guy instead of stuffing her face like a clown, the more she’ll see who among the girls is really her friend and who isn’t (hint: probably not a lot of them.)

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Is this a ride worth staying on? Too early to say. There were some decent moments of comedy and teen drama. It’s certainly very pretty, and the character designs are appealing (as long as you’re not weirded out by everyone’s very round, expressive eyes). But this is a jam-packed Summer season. Both this and Glasslip were serviceable but not outstanding. And between Kimi ni Todoke and Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, I’ve already watched my fair share of above-average rom-coms that enjoyed better starts. So we’ll see.

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Nisekoi – 11

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Jeez-o-Pete…is it really that common for five-year-old Japanese kids to make these kinds of promises? At least two girls seem to be convinced (or hopeful, in Kosaki’s case), that Raku is the one they made the promise to ten years ago. But of course, it can’t be both of them.

The sorting out once-and-for-all is put off though, due to two big events: first, Chitoge’s sixteenth birthday, and second, Ruri’s pairing up of Kosaki and Raku to go out together to find gifts for her. About the first part: the first sorta-not-really date between them is lovely to behold, the starting with Kosaki making sure she looks correct in the reflection of the same cafe window Raku is sitting behind.

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The two are still under the mistaken impression that neither is interested in the other, until Kosaki finally exhibits some initiative, first by showing Raku her secret vantage point of the city (which is gorgeous and calls to mind the end of Whisper of the Heart, of all things), but also calls him by name. Flustered by all this sudden affection, rather than ask what Kosaki’s birthday is, Raku accidentally asks if she was the girl from ten years ago.

Her affirmative response shocks him even more, along with us: we don’t know what’s gotten into Kosaki, but we like it: no longer mincing words or hiding her feelings. She and Raku come so close to embracing when Raku’s phone rings, which is incredibly lame, but that’s okay; some progress has been made. Not as much as we (or Ruri) would hope for, but some.

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That brings us to the ridiculous party Claude and the rest of Chitoge’s yakuza family have prepared, complete with Claude’s Claudey, gaudy gift of a Maybach Excelro, which is indeed quite exclusive; we love how the license-less Chitoge could care less. We also like how Raku’s gift of a gorilla doll that looks kinda like Chitoge moved her much more.

When the two end up on her balcony, she asks if he still likes the girl he made the promise to, thinking it was her, and he says yes, thinking it was Kosaki. But it isn’t as if he doesn’t like Chitoge too. Slowly, information is being distributed to various parties, but the matter of who made a promise to whom back then remains a vexing mystery.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Nisekoi – 10

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If we had to choose a girl we wanted Raku to choose, we’d have to say we’d still choose Kosaki, even though she’s unfathomably inept at expressing her feelings for him as he is, and even though she may not even be the girl he made a pact with when younger. It’s hard not to root for any Hana-Kana-voiced character—unless she’s trying to kill all the other characters, or is simply annoying.

However, we have to say Chitoge probably won this week’s round. All Raku wanted was to be paired with Kosaki for the test of courage, during which they’d have to hold hands the whole time. As it happens, all Kosaki wants is to be paired with Raku. When the show decides not to pull a fast one and actually pair them up, it’s almost too good to be true; and it’s another case of the two being virtually paralyzed by their mutual (but oddly not fully mutually detected) attraction.

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But the moment Raku learns that Chitoge is lost and alone in the dark woods with a broken flashlight, he grudgingly abandons Kosaki’s soft, warm, possibly nervous hand and goes to his fake girlfriend’s aid. Kosaki loses, but nevertheless Raku’s actions reinforce why she loves him: he won’t stand by while a friend is in trouble. Raku can deny caring or worrying about Chitoge all he wants, but we know better, and so should he.

And just as Kosaki was as enthusiastic about being with Raku as he with her, Chitoge is just as hopeful the boy who loves her will come to her rescue. Raku arrives on cue, and while the two exchange forced gestures of indifference towards each other, the fact Chitoge insists she and Raku start addressing each other by first name is less about being seen as a more convincing fake couple, and more about unwittingly becoming a real one.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)