Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 11 (Fin) – What We Like Never Changes

We begin the finale of what is likely only the first of two (if not more) seasons of a solid Working!!-like anime that focuses on young working adults and their relationships, with Koyanagi and Kabakura in a kind of domestic bliss, just enjoying a day off reading manga and drinking tea as a couple.

Narumi wants that kind of normalcy in her partnership with Hirotaka, so she decides she’ll arrive at his house unannounced. Neither of the welcomes she comes up with in her head come to pass; instead she finds the door unlocked and Hirotaka all but passed out, exhausted and starving as a result of playing games and doing nothing else.

Before getting into a bickering match with Kabakura about BL and finally getting him to agree to try it out, Koyanagi has a phone chat with Narumi, who is in the act of doing “the girlfriend thing” of taking care of her man like his mother would have earlier in life. It’s an outmoded dynamic, but there is no doubt it is the norm in Japan, and America as well.

Narumi quickly learns that her boyfriend will walk around his apartment naked after bathing in search of a towel, and that even the few articles of food in the house were brought there by Naoya, who performs the girlfriend duties Narumi wants to do whenever he sleeps over.

Kou’s route with Naoya inches ever so slightly forward, with it seeming far more likely Nao is unaware she’s a girl than not; perhaps we’ll see more (slow, steady) progress there in sequels. Meanwhile, Narumi takes Hirotaka out on a mandatory walking “date,” before remembering that not only is her favorite seiyu on a variety show, but that she specifically wants to see it with Hirotaka.

In other words, she wants to share what she likes with the person she likes. Who doesn’t? Hirotaka then puts actual effort into his running in exchange for another girlfriend-cooked meal, just as Hirotaka wants to just Netflix and chill with her after dinner. A very chill ending to a show that I suspect has a lot more stories big and small to tell down the road.

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Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 10 – Let’s Play Together

Naoya is about to go on break when he spots a student studying. Upon closer inspection, they’re playing a handheld game, the one Hirotaka happens to also play. When Nao approaches the student they run away and say “I’m sorry” way more than necessary, but he eventually gets a name—Sakuragi Kou—and an invitation to game with them.

I say “them”, as Nao may well assume Kou is a guy from their deep voice and short hair. But through his college classmates we learn Kou is actually a woman…a very introverted one, but one who’s open to being friends with Nao. In Kou, Nao has a gaming companion who will never get mad or frustrated due to his ineptitude.

Still, Nao feels he’s holding Kou back, so arranges to join a party with Narumi, Kabakura and Koyanagi to tackle a high-level quest in hopes he can level up enough to play beside Kou properly.

Hirotaka was supposed to join the party, but only shows up late, after the rest of them find themselves in a big spot. The one who ends up saving them with overpowered attackes is Kou, who darts in and out of the game so quickly hardly anyone notices…except Nao, who later thanks her for saving them.

Back IRL, both Narumi and Hirotaka are on the verge of being late for work. In Hirotaka’s case, it’s because he stepped on and broke his glasses (this is a bad week for characters’ glasses!)  and can’t see a damn thing. This affects his productivity at work because he has to come within inches of a screen or a face to see it, and it affects Narumi’s productivity because she’s distracted by and concerned for his predicament.

Kabakura (who’s a bit of a strict taskmaster this week…can’t workers take their eyes off the monitor for two seconds?) sends both of them off on break early so Hirotaka can acquire new glasses. Before then, rumors were starting to spread at the office that Hirotaka without glasses was “pretty hot.” When Narumi notices he’s not squinting or drawing close to notice her, his response is surprisingly romantic: “I know it’s you, even if I can’t see you.” Dokidoki!

In the final segment we’re back to the game, where Kou (who has a very cool avatar) is trying to support Nao in developing his solo game before doing multiplayer quests. Nao fails again and again, and apologizes for it, but Kou never loses patience; she’s just having fun playing the game with him.

That applies even when Nao IRL leaves the computer to take a phone call and Hirotaka takes over his avatar and completely obliterates a group of baddies even Kou had trouble with. Once Nao takes back control, he prepares to log out so Kou can take care of business on her own, but Kou stops him by grabbing his sleeve, saying she doesn’t mind him sticking around.  When Nao agrees to stay, Kou IRL cracks a smile. Kou so cute!

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 12 (Fin) – Never Gonna Give Up, Never Gonna Let Down

For the record, I was never against Akira running again, I just wanted it to be because she wanted to do it, not because Haruka or anyone else compelled her to. In any hard endeavor, if your heart isn’t in something, quality suffers, and its evident for all.

What I learned from this finale is that both Akira and Masami got nudges of varying kinds from their respective best friends. One of them, Haruka, may have pushed a little to far in her zealousness, but to her credit, is aware of that, and how it may well be selfish of her to put Akira on the spot.

At the same time, Haruka is being true to what she wants, even if it’s selfish or may not work out; even if Akira never speaks to her again, she had to make her stand, in case there was just the slightest glimmer of an ember of passion remaining in post-op Akira’s heart.

Despite the differing levels of intensity, both “friend nudges” ultimately succeed, because there were indeed embers in the hearts of both Akira and Masami, which only needed a little bit of oxygen to reignite. Perhaps due to how receptive he was to Chihiro’s advice, Masami is back to belting out pages through the night, nearly causing a dozen cigarette fires.

It’s at this point that we return to the budding romance of Nishida and Yoshizawa, never an unwelcome prospect owing to their infectious chemistry and general adorability. Both are unsure of their futures, but while Yoshizawa is simply going to college and will figure out what to do later, Nishida has decided to start on the path of hair-styling.

Yoshizawa was the one that nudged her in that direction, fortifying her courage with his confidence in her ability and satisfaction with the work she’s done and, if she’ll have him, will continue to do into the future. Bawwww.

Meanwhile, Haruka continues to wait for Akira, spotting two middle schoolers sharing a scarf while scouting the high school and remembering when she and Akira did the same exact thing, because it was a school that, according to its name, can “see the wind,” something they wanted to do together.

While Kondo is away at the Head Office again, sparking rumors that he’s soon to be promoted, his son Yuuto suddenly asks Akira if she’s fast, and whether she’ll teach him. Akira just as suddenly agrees, and does a really good job!

When Yuuto falls, he asks if he wants a break, but he refuses, not wanting to give up; wanting to reach the finish line even if he’s last, or else it will feel like he never ran. Just when it sounds like a “from the mouths of babes” moment, Yuuto makes it clear it was his dad that said this stuff to him, adding that he wasn’t going to give up either.

When she catches Kondo in the office, he thanks her for teaching his son, and she tells him what Yuuto told her. Akira can tell he’s gotten back into writing novels, and he tells her he’s essentially added a promise to a promise one from which he’s both suffered and learned, wondering out loud if she has a similar promise she’s forgotten.

That night, she remembers. Unpleasant and overdone as it was, Haruka’s confrontation nevertheless helped unsheath a still-warm ember in her heart. Kondo’s inspiring words and those of his son then reignited it.

Kondo finally announces why he’s been at the head office so much: it’s not that he’s getting promoted, but he has to master a new menu…which he hasn’t been able to do. His coworkers assume it’s another episode of their pitiable bed-headed manager bumbling about again…but nobody knows that he hasn’t kept up with the new menu because he’s so absorbed in writing. Nobody, that is, except Akira.

When he even leaves the menu book behind, Akira decides to tracks him down to return it. She remembers that after the fall that tore her Achilles, Haruka urged her to get back up, and she did, limping across the finish line. She didn’t give up.

Kondou encounter her in a light jog, and after what happened the last time she chased someone down, Kondou is worried. But Akira is perfectly fine, telling him “It’ll stop raining soon.”

Kondou is about to say something but is interrupted by a phone call—no doubt the head office tearing him a new one. But as Tachibana quietly walks away, the rain stops, the clouds part, and a lusciously gorgeous deep blue sky opens up, reflected in the pools of fallen rain.

He calls out her name once more, and she comes running, practically throwing herself into his arms. And she’s fine, no re-aggravation. They resolve to fulfill their own promises—his writing, her running—they’ll let each other know right away, whenever that may be. Akira then texts Haruka, indicating her desire for them to “see the wind” together again.

It’s a lovely end to a lovely show to put a very necessary pause on their romance. Rekindling fires is one thing, keeping them going long and strong is another. It takes time, dedication, effort, and care. As such, I imagine by the time Akira makes some good progress fulfilling her promise, she’ll be sufficiently old to remove the elephant from the room of their relationship.

However things go, it’s good to see Akira and Kondou end up in such a good place. They both know what they have to do, but more importantly, they know what they want to do, and are going to give it their all—come what may.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 13 (Fin) – Ten Thousand Times More Beautiful

With no more conflicts or catharses left to have, the girls enjoy their final days in Antarctica. They’ve settled into such a routine and gotten so used to the astonishing environment, one adult jokes they won’t be able to reintegrate into society, presenting Shirase and the other Mahjong junkies as evidence.

Their final journey to the frozen sea affords them the opportunity to taste snowcones made from ice with thousand-year-old air pockets, which Mari attests to be delicious. They also learn that much of the winter team’s activities will include sleeping, drinking, and games to pass the time.

Shirase finally gets her wish to be surrounded by adorable penguins, but she’s locked in a cycle of being disgusted by the smell and delighted by being in their presence while asking for some unspecified form of help. I imagine many of us would feel the same way.

Mari is getting cold feet about leaving, and wonders out loud to the others why they can’t just stay. Hinata flicks her forehead and doles out reality; they have to get back to their homes, their families, and their school. But all four promise that they’ll come back together someday.

They then present their final request to the rest of the team: that they play a game of snow softball. Captain Toudou is, naturally, the ace, but just like Takako, Shirase is not only able to hit her pitch, but drive it out of the “park.”

On the eve of departing, Shirase decides to have her hair cut short—her heart wasn’t broken by a guy, but such a change makes sense after her catharsis with the laptop (she also wisely chooses Hinata to cut it, not Mari). The whole team musters for the girls’ farewell ceremony, and after a heartfelt speech by Gin that starts everyone crying, Shirase confidently delivers and even more heartfelt, tear-jerking speech.

In it, she expresses the understanding she reached in this place beyond the universe, and why both her mother and her love it so much: It’s a place that strips everything bare, with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide. It’s a place where someone can come face-to-face with who they really are…and she did that.

Before embarking for home, Shirase hands Gin her mom’s laptop, stating she no longer needs it. Later, Gin discovers there’s still a message from Takako in the outbox; the last she ever composed. The quartet waves goodbye to their Antarctic summer home where they experienced and learned so much about the world, each other, and themselves.

Yuzu wonders if maybe they all got a little stronger during the journey. A ‘little’? I think she sells herself and the others short here. They were the first high school-age students to explore Antarctica, and they made it. Now, all of a sudden, they’re headed back to the normal world. Even if and when they come back, it will never be the same as their first time.

When night falls, Mari finally gets to experience the one thing they couldn’t due to the laughably short Antarctic nights: view the aurora. Just when they do, Gin sends the last email Takako wrote to Shirase, stating how the real thing is “ten thousand times more beautiful”—something of which, in that moment, Shirase and the others are all to aware.

The four friends, having forged their bonds in the coldest and harshest crucible on the planet, go their separate ways with confidence and return to their lives that were with a serious sense of accomplishment, self-awareness, and maturity.

They discovered as much about themselves in Antarctica as they discovered about the place itself, like how there are no “nothing” days but there’s still more to discover upon returning, like the smell of one’s house.

And in a perfect capper to a marvelous series, Mari texts Megumi that she’s home, and gets a near-immediate response, along with a photo of her posing with the aurora: “Too bad. Right now, I’m in the Arctic.” Well played, Megu-chan; well played.

 

Citrus – 12 (Fin)

The Citrus finale ends predictably, but starts with a bit of a surprise: Nina’s brute strength is all but neutralized by Yuzu’s sheer force of will. Nina realizes she can’t hold Yuzu back from doing something she may regret the rest of her life. But that doesn’t mean she won’t tag along when Sara summons Yuzu.

Nina has always seen her sister as someone who will put her own happiness last, and when she and Yuzu arrive, Sara appears to be doing just that by giving Yuzu a chance to confess to Mei. But letting Mei go and supporting Yuzu does make Sara happy. She can tell they’re a better match; they just need to work harder at understanding each other.

Sara is also happy because she has a little sister who cares about and protects her so much. And she has no intention of ceasing to be friends with either Yuzu or Mei. When you put it all together, Sara gained more than she lost.

As Yuzu takes the long walk to the shrine where Mei is waiting, her friends give her a wide berth. Matsuri wanted to inject herself into Yuzu’s trip, but resists the urge to bother her.

Harumin and Himeko spot Yuzu running like a bat out of hell, and both admit that her whirlwind nature is what draws them to her. Harumin has never minded supporting Yuzu as much as she has because she has so much fun watching her figure things out (that, and she’s a natural mama bird).

Night has fallen by the time Yuzu finds Mei on one of those bridges where confessions usually happen, but Mei is not in a receptive mood, and bolts when Yuzu tries to press the issue. Not quite sure if the ensuing chase was absolutely necessary, but it does add to the dramatic mood, especially when it ends with an accidental full-body tackle by Yuzu.

By the time Yuzu has Mei down by contact, she’s said a lot of the things she hadn’t said before but needed to, like admitting a lot of what Mei says and does just doesn’t make any damn sense to her, but also knows Mei feels the same way about her. She goes through the times Mei tried to reach out with her feelings when Yuzu was only thinking about her own.

Yuzu regrets putting Mei through those things, but it doesn’t change the fact she loves her and wants to do better, so if Mei loves her too, she should give her a kiss. Suddenly too bashful to do so, Mei has her mini teddy bear kiss Yuzu instead. Yuzu, in turn, gives Mei a kiss.

After much groping (literal and figurative) in the dark, the sisters are finally sure about one thing, even if Mei says she needs to date Yuzu to find out for sure. With that, they hook back up with Sara and Nina, Nina gives Mei and Yuzu her blessing and tells Mei to try to be more selfish at times, and they part ways with a promise to take a trip to Kyoto again, just the four of them.

Sara also said she’d “forgive” Mei for choosing Yuzu if Mei held Yuzu’s hand as they headed back to the hotel. On another cold night, Yuzu is thankful for Mei’s warm touch, leading to them sharing another kiss on another romantic bridge.

Back at school, Mei, Yuzu, Harumin and Himeko make a fine quartet, and Mei shows how much Yuzu’s confession meant by holding hands with her, even there on school grounds. Whatever the future holds for Yuzu and Mei, they’re going to enjoy their present.

That’s nice! I’m glad the stepsisters aren’t on tenterhooks and are moving forward with an attitude of honesty, openness, and a desire to understand each other more. With friends like Harumin, Himeko, and Sara (and…okay, fine, Nina too) supporting them, who at times threatened to steal the show away from the core couple, they’ll be just fine.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 11

When Haruka learns that a runner from another school fully recovered from the same injury Akira suffered to best her personal 100-meter time, and could threaten Akira’s tournament record, she redoubles her efforts to bring Akira back in the fold, even going so far as to follow her to her workplace.

Kondou sees that a girl from Akira’s school is a customer, and that can tell the conversation isn’t a pleasant one. Let’s get one thing straight: Haruka isn’t here to ask Akira what she wants or how she feels. Haruka is there to tell Akira what Haruka wants—and how sad she’ll be if she doesn’t get it.

She marches in there judging Akira’s choice to work an honest job rather than risk re-injuring herself, saying she’ll “always be waiting” for Akira to come around to wanting to run again, as if that’s the only acceptable path for her. Then she storms off without letting Akira so much as respond.

It’s frankly sickening to watch someone who purports to care about Akira only seem to be interested in what would make herself happy—not to mention shore up her track team. If their roles were reversed, I doubt Akira would treat her so awfully.

Thankfully we get a pleasant palate-cleanser in the form of Chihiro paying Kondou a surprise visit with a brand-new siphon coffee maker. Make no mistake: Chihiro isn’t there just for Kondou’s benefit, he came to ground himself with an old friend he still holds in high regard.

Kondou looks at Chihiro’s success in the same way Haruka looks at Akira’s records and talent—from the outside. The book being made into a movie is a “piece of shit” in Chihiro’s mind, and the more successful he gets, the more expectations mount (much as they did for Akira before her injury), and the more “shit” he feels he has to put out.

Rather than voice any disappointment, Chihiro actually lauds Kondou for living an honest life. Unlike Akira giving up running cold turkey, Kondou has always to maintain the obsession to write, even if it’s for nobody but himself, and even if he’s too excited to do the first one-minute novel in a long time.

Chihiro isn’t asking him to quit being a manager and start selling novels…but he urges Kondou not to give up that obsession, even if it’s not as big a part of his life as it was. Granted, Chihiro and Kondou are older and more matured by life experience, but the contrast between their equitable dynamic and Haruka’s totally unfair one-sided oppression of Akira couldn’t be starker.

Chihiro and Haruka, who are still fully in the respective games their friends left, have similar messages. I’ve always seen Akira as not giving up or running away from track, but simply moving on, while Kondou gives his old habit of late-night writing another go after Chihiro’s visit.

That same night, Akira takes out her cleats, suggesting as terribly as she expressed it, Haruka was right that Akira still yearns to run. But the next day when a customer forgets a phone and she can’t get it back to them without running, she doesn’t run this time, as the camera pulls in on her recently repaired Achilles. I can’t blame her, considering what happened the last time she did.

In the restaurant office, Akira sees that Kondou hasn’t filled out her shift schedule yet with her requested increased shifts, and when he asks her if there’s “anything else she wants to do” besides work there all the time, she should do that. This angers Akira, because it’s almost as if everyone’s ganging up on her…even the man she has feelings for.

The fact of the matter is, even if it’s objectively wrong for Akira to not even consider giving running another go, it’s her goddamn RIGHT to be wrong, no one else’s. Yes, she’s young, and her emotions on this matter are all over the place.

She might not be able to easily answer the question “do you want to run?” if asked because she’s so afraid of the possibility she just can’t do it anymore. Or maybe she really truly doesn’t want to run. In either case, it’s her choice to make. Haruka may have enough confidence in her for the both of them, but at the end of the day…it ain’t her Achilles.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 12

Shirase vividly remembers the day she was suddenly pulled out of class and informed of her mother’s death. How can she not? We all carry days like that in our memories. For her, it was the end of life feeling as it had before, and the beginning of a dream; an awful dream from which she hoped every day to wake up from.

She’s worked so hard, endured mockery, made and fought with friends, and arrived at the place where she lost her mother. Yet she still doesn’t feel like the dream is over. Now Gin has invited her and the other girls to join the team that will press inland, to the observatory site from which Takako never returned.

Shirase tells her friends it’s not so much that she’s depressed to stressed out about her mother. Rather, she’s weary that if and when she gets to the end of the road, there will be nowhere left to go. If nothing changes, the way it hasn’t thus far, what if she keeps feeling the way she does the rest of her life? What if she can’t wake up?

The girls decide to give Shirase space, proof, according to an adult colleague, that they’re truly good friends. Shirase sits with Gin, who tells her that neither of them know what Takako felt, or whether she wanted them to return to Antarctica, where she’d be waiting in some form.

All Gin can say for certain is that she came because she wanted to come: “At the end of the day, those ideas we latch on to aren’t enough to motivate us. But when we run around on the injustices of reality, they’re the only things that can break through, make the impossible possible, and allow us to proceed on.”

After laying out all of her cash and listing all the ways she made it, Shirase regains the idea that brought her to Antarcica, and joins Gin and the other girls on the inland trip…because her mother is waiting there.

Along the slow, cold slog of a trip, Shirase and he girls experience the harshest conditions so far, but still have to work in them, because there’s no other choice. They also experience some of the most otherworldly sights, like a sun pillar.

When Shirase asks Gin if her mother saw the same thing, Gin answers in the affirmative. Later, Gin has Shirase check in with Syowa Station. From then on, as Shirase realizes she’s following in her mother’s last footsteps, the journey adopts an increasingly melancholy mood.

When a punishing blizzard arrives identical to the one that suddenly claimed Takako, Gin remembers Takako’s last call on the radio, saying “it’s beautiful” but not telling Gin where she was, because if Gin went out to attempt rescue, nature would likely have claimed her as well.

The girls are snug in their sleeping bags as the winds lash against the snowcat, and Shirase sees a vision of her mother sitting nearby, working on her laptop. Mari wakes up to thank Shirase for taking her for allowing her to get the most out of her youth.

It doesn’t matter to her whether they went to Antartica or the Arctic or anywhere else; what made the trip special was that they took it together, as friends. Shirase then tells her mother that she, who thought she’d be fine alone forever, now has friends: slightly weird, frustrating, and broken friends, but friends who were willing to come this far with her.

Now, there’s only a little further to go, and once the snowcats arrive at the observatory site, those same friends rush into the underground complex to try to find something, anything that serves as proof Shirase’s mother was there. And boy do they ever find it: Takako’s laptop, with a photo of Takako and Shirase taped to the back.

Again Shirase’s friends recede to the hallway as Shirase fires up the laptop. She gets the password right on the second try, and when Takako’s inbox opens, it immediately starts updating, with a dozen, then a hundred, then a thousand emails gradually pouring in…and Shirase loses it. Her friends hear her anguish and then they start crying.

In a show that’s had no shortage of episode climaxes that tug at the heartstrings, no scene to date has tugged quite this far (I pretty much lost it too!). It truly feels like Shirase has finally awakened from her hazy three-year-long dream, having experienced a profound measure of closure from this. In any case, her fear of not feeling anything once she came to the end of her journey didn’t come to pass. She didn’t just feel something; she felt everything.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 10

Keeping Akira in a constant state of hot-and-botheredness was not sustainable, so I’m really enjoying how their relationship has evolved since The Hug. Akira exploits another opportunity to hang out with Masami as friends (a used book sale), and has no other designs other than to see him in a place where he feels at home, and learn a little more about him, and enjoy the nice weather. She’s not all that worried about whether it’s a date or not.

Masami happens to know one of the booksellers (he frequented his store back in the day) who of course assumes Akira is his daughter, but Akira is the one to correct him by calling them friends. The subject of two people knowing each other so well that they can communicate far more with fewer words, Akira resists the urge to call or text Masami when he wanders off into bookland.

Instead, she channels Victor Hugo by sending just a “?”. Since Masami just told her about the instance of Hugo and his publisher, she knows she can share a moment of knowing with Masami, which gives her no shortage of joy. No drama, no furiously burning flames of passion…just a nice day out together.

In another instance of sending a message with naught but a symbol, Akira eventually sends Haruka a signal she still cares by liking one of the track club posts…even if Akira herself seems to have moved past track, not wanting to undergo rehab to make a comeback.

Similarly, when Masami catches Chihiro on TV calling books and writing his “lover”, he can relate; it used to be his lover too, and he devoted nearly all his time to it, hurting his wife and son in the process. After going through some of his writings, he stuffs them back in the box and puts the box back on the shelf, not ready to chase the “one-sided love.”

The next day, Akira shows Masami the book she bought for herself at the sale, And Then by Soseki. It comes with a charming bookmark of a swallow holding a four-leaf clover, which reminds Masami of the swallow’s nest under the backdoor awning they had to get rid of because of the droppings.

Masami makes sure Akira understands they waited for all of the babies to leave the nest before doing so, which prompts Akira to ask what would have happened had one bird not made it from the nest; perhaps a metaphor for her being unable to join her trackmates, as well as Masami pondering giving writing up.

Masami replies that such a bird may still be able to find some happiness, and even forget about the others, but hopes that the bird wouldn’t regret giving up, lest it keep looking wistfully up at the sky, pondering what might have been.

He apologizes for rambling on, but Akira thanks him for his words, and wants to hear more of them, and perhaps one day read them as well. Akira is signalling to him that it’s okay to keep that dream of writing alive, that perhaps the forgiveness he so obviously seeks isn’t as out of reach as he thought.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 11

It’s the year’s end, and the members of the expedition get to communicate with family and/or friends via a satellite feed. This is how Mari’s mom and sister get to laugh at her ski goggle tan, but it’s also how three high school track club members reopen a wound for Hinata; a wound she decided to forget about and move on from in…the furthest place in the universe.

But just the sight of those three girls boils Hinata’s blood to the extent she must run outside and wreck some shit while yelling for them to “piss off!” Shirase witnesses this display, and it only reinforces the concern she felt the minute Hinata covered up the camera lens.

Hinata—and, unwittingly, Mari—conspire to keep Shirase from ever being able to broach the topic with Hinata, almost intuitively senses what Shirase wants to talk about, and wants nothing to do with it. Shirase gets so worked up about what Hinata might be hiding, she crosses a line and opens Hinata’s email.

I was as curious as Shirase to learn why Hinata was acting this way, and truly wanted both her, Mari and Yuzu to find some way to make things better for Hinata. I may have even done what Shirase did…but it doesn’t make it right.

Hinata comes to realize she’s partly to blame for Shirase’s breach of privacy by being so inaccessible. So she tells Shirase and the others her sob story of being too good at running, showing up the upperclassmen, and getting ostracized. Not only does she leave the club, but she quits school due to the fallout.

Now the girls know why she was so put off by seeing her friends on camera: she doesn’t see them as friends. Later, when the girls get to do some expeditionary work in an alien landscape that looks kind of like chocolate cake with white frosting, Hinata reiterates that she doesn’t care about the noise from the past, and came to Antarcitca precisely to get away…not just from petty high school drama, but everything.

Shirase ponders all that Hinata said, and puts herself in Hinata’s shoes. Taking Hinata aside to get some of that pure, crisp Antarctica water (my mouth hadn’t watered over water since Last Exile; good job, show!), Shirase tells her that she wouldn’t be okay with it, or be able to smile with it hanging over her.

Hinata makes the good point that she’s not her; different people get to deal with things in different ways. But she also admits she may still simply be too scared to face those track girls, whether it’s to forgive them, to tell them to eat shit…or both. She thanks Shirase for having her back, but tells her she doesn’t need all the words Shirase wants to say…the warmth of her hands is enough.

When those three girls show back up in the satellite feed, Shirase shows she isn’t done. With Hinata’s emotional well-being at stake, Shirase completely shaks off her usual camera shyness, interrupts the planned schedule of the broadcast, and confronts the track girls directly, telling them to leave Hinata the hell alone.

Shirase goes OFF with an epic tirade that only further expanded my love for both Shirase and Hanazawa Kana. Hinata is doing fine without your lame asses, she basically says. She is taking steps forward, with her real friends:

“Unlike Hinata, I’m a real jerk, so I’ll say it straight: You can’t live your lives in this halfway state forever! You hurt someone and made them suffer! Now you get to live with that! That’s what you get for hurting someone…for hurting my friend! You think you can come crawling back now? PISS OFF!”

Masterful shit right there…that not only brings Hinata, but the other girls and Shirase herself to tears, while Toudou Gin has a glint of pride in her eye, surely seeing the passion of her dearly departed friend burn in her daughter. When they ring in the new year, it may be with a block of wood and an steel drum, but it’s no less triumphant. Time to turn the f’in page. A new year and new experiences await.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 09

I had high hopes for some enjoyable festival times with a newly reunited Akira and Haruka, but the reveal of the episode’s title, “Rain of Sorrow” (yikes!), After the Rain had other ideas. While Akira made a nice gesture by inviting Haruka out, there’s no avoiding the fact the two have drifted apart considerably.

When Haruka watches Akira interact with Kondou (who is there with Yuuto), Haruka is thrown for a loop when Akira makes it clear she likes someone so “old.” It’s a reasonable thing for a high schooler to say, but Akira doesn’t take kindly to it, and cuts off the discussion.

That, in turn, leads Haruka to lose her temper, since Akira has made it almost impossible to talk to her about anything anymore. With a few words that probably weren’t meant to cut as deeply as they do, Akira has Haruka running home crying. Those words? “We can’t go back to how we used to be.”

That’s damned harsh, and I’m a little disappointed in Akira for going there so quickly, but then again, perhaps a degree of maturity and pragmatism have rubbed off on her, both from Kondou and the reality of not being able to run. Bottom line, harsh or not, Akira is right, and she’s not quite sure how to integrate Haruka back into her life.

Somewhat conveniently, Kondou is going through the same thing, only at a more advanced stage: he’s meeting an old friend and classmate Kujou Chihiro at their old watering hole, where they’re the only two guys who aren’t college students.

Kujou is the author of the book Kondou checked out of the library and got mad at the Amazon reviewer about. And it’s lovely to see these old friends gel so nicely right out of the gate (beer and delicious food help grease the proverbial wheels).

It’s also apparent Kujou holds Kondou’s opinion and skills as a writer in high regard; perhaps even beyond his own, which is why he doesn’t believe Kondou when he says he doesn’t write anymore. He does, but rather than a dream he wishes to achieve, it’s “just a little something.”

But there’s a reason Kondou and Kujou haven’t seen each other in ten years. Kondou was meant to join Kujou and other classmates on a trip to India, but he ditched them to marry Yuuto’s mother, while Kujou’s experience kicked off his successful writing career Kondou wanted but apparently put aside for love and family.

Kondou and Kujou never had a grand public yelling match in full yukata regalia like our girls, but through their individual choices and the passage of time, grew apart to the point they couldn’t go back to how they used to be. There may be other times when they see each other to drink and talk. When together, they’re not adults, but classmates. But there will never be a time like back they enjoyed in their youth. Nostalgia, indeed!

The new term starts for Akira, and while her other track friends are friendly, since she hasn’t made up with Haruka, things are still awkward between them, and Akira isn’t sure how or even if she can mend fences, because she’s just as behind in what Haruka is thinking and feeling as vice versa.

Kondou (who made sure to tell Kujou his depiction of high school girls was inaccurate, no doubt based in part on his friendship with Akira), can sense Akira is down about something, and unlike with Haruka, Akira can relatively easily tell him what that something is.

Their talk is interrupted by work, but at close Kondou has Akira join him outside once more, where he presents her with a gorgeous supermoon (and what a great closeup of Akira’s eyes reacting to it’s glory) upon which to wish.

Kondou also lays down some adulty wisdom: even if she and her friend are growing apart, the irreplaceable moments they shared won’t disappear, so perhaps neither will the possibility they’ll grow closer again someday. Sometimes people need to grow apart to truly find themselves. But in Akira’s case, I think she should attempt to make up sooner rather than later; I don’t think they’re irreconcilable.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 10

Now that they’ve arrived at Antarctica, the expedition weighs anchor and starts to bring supplies ashore using a very badass helicopter. The high school girls take a trip (which Yuzu likes not at all) and get to see the ship from the sky (it’s a thrilling bit of CGI) before being deposited at Syowa Station.

Kanae gives the girls—and by extension us—a tour of the facilities, including seperate bedrooms for all four of them, a luxury after having to share a berth at sea. While spartan, the habitations are also quite cozy and homey, far nicer than what I was expecting.

I really enjoyed the contrast between the cool Antarctic “night” (light-wise it stays dusk at its darkest) and the warm, inviting, lived-in interiors; the perfect place to kick back after a hard day’s work.

As unloading, cleaning, and other duties mount, Yuzu learns she’s been offered a role on a popular Japanese TV drama (there’s cell service at the station), but is worried it would mean, as it’s always meant throughout her career, the end of her time with Mari, Shirase and Hinata.

True to that career, she even comes up with a “friendship contract” for them to sign, causing Mari to cry and hug Yuzu with a distinct “you poor thing” vibe.

There were times when Yuzu seemed almost painfully naive about what friends and friendship are, but then I remembered that these three girls are her first, so naturally she wouldn’t be sure when the threshold of friendship had passed. Of course, no one really knows when that happens; friendships may not be as solid and structured as marriages or parenthood, but that’s what sets them apart as something special.

Mari takes the time to impart some wisdom to Yuzu regarding what she considers friendship (since it can be different for everyone) using Megumi as an example. Mari has been sending her pics, and whether Megu responds right away or as often or not, she always knows when Megumi has seen the message by the notification on the phone. That, in turn, helps Mari imagine what Megumi might be doing or thinking about in that moment.

With that, the other three arrive and unveil what they had been planning for Yuzu all along: a surprise birthday party. Her real birthday passed when they were all horribly seasick, so the Christmas party made her sad.

So the girls prepped some poppers and cake so that she could celebrate her very first birthday with friends. It’s almost too much to handle, as Yuzu starts bawling and can’t even speak clearly because of all the tears and snot.

But the next day, when Mari and Yuzu are off doing different tasks, Yuzu sends Mari a text not apologizing, but thanking her. Just a simple little check-in that lets both Mari and Yuzu know that they’re thinking of one another. Finally, Yuzu seems to get what friendship is, and that one should never overthink it.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 06

Akira is more than just her infatuation with Kondou; she’s just choosing to dedicate all of her headspace to him at the cost of everything and everyone else. I’m not judging her choice—I have no right to, and don’t even really disagree with it—I’m just stating the facts here.

One of the casualties is Kyan Haruka, who has been friends with Akira for ages. Theirs is a friendship that endured being separated for their last year and change of junior high. They said they’d be back together again, and then they were. Then Akira was injured and was torn away from the thing she loved most,  and the primary reason for their hanging out: running.

Haruka now finds herself in the unintentional, unfortunate position of being a constant reminder of what Akira has lost. That can wear down a friendship in a hurry, so when Haruka spots Akira at a bookstore, she’s weary of approaching her (especially after their last, not-so-smooth encounter) and almost seems relieved when Akira’s co-worker appears.

It’s not just Haruka keeping her distance. Even when Akira doesn’t have her head in the clouds about Kondou, when she spots Haruka, her friend is seemingly constantly being orbited by a host of other runners. It’s not intimidating per se, but perhaps too brazen for her to be able to handle.

This week’s episode covers Akira’s latest efforts to court Kondou while Haruka seeks a way to reconnect, and while that’s about it in the plot department—and that’s all very nicely done—what truly made this a treasure (and a 9) for me was the wonderful atmosphere, and the amount of breathing space one has within the episode.

After the flashback to Akira and Haruka, we’re treated to a virtually dialogue-free montage of Akira getting on with her day: missing a bus; trekking in the Summer heat; catching a gorgeous view of the town; and going to work.

It’s a beautiful and effective way of showing us that there is indeed more to Akira than her Kondou crush or Haruka troubles. She’s her own person, living life and taking the time to stop and enjoy its scenery.

While waiting for a bus, Akira hears from two younger girls about the magical romantic properties of a certain rare cat keychain, and attacks the dispenser with her yen, gaining dozens of keychains, but none of them the one she needed.

It’s while she’s obsessively turning the crank when Haruka spots her. She hides at first, but when Akira doesn’t stop buying keychains, she intervenes, as a good friend should.

Their ensuing time together is rather distant, but cordial. After all, these two have no particular beef; they’re both victims of circumstances that have limited their interactions of late. But Akira gives Haruka some duplicate keychains she has, and before parting ways at cram school, wishes her good luck at practice.

Haruka and I both agree that “good luck” is an olive branch on Akira’s part; and an acknowledgement that just because Haruka can run and she can’t doesn’t mean she hates her.

I tellya, the skies just keep getting better and better in this episode, like the brewing thunderstorm near dusk when Haruka does a practice run. She remembers Akira’s smile earlier in the day, as well as the keychain(s) she gave her, and Haruka is suddenly taken back to the day she learned why Akira always ran so fast and far ahead of her despite her protestations.

It’s not because she doesn’t like Haruka, it’s because she loves the feeling and sound of the wind that one only gets from running. When Haruka says she guess she understands what she’s on about, Akira beams so brightly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Haruka fell for her right then and there. She certainly caught the running bug after that day.

Haruka doesn’t want to lose the person who made her realize how fun running was, especially when it was with that person. So the next day she tosses a plastic egg to Akira, who opens it to find not only the rare black keychain she couldn’t get on her own, but a note from Haruka clarifying (or hoping) that their friendship isn’t just about track and field.

I’m guessing Akira is grateful for Haruka’s gift, because it then proceeds to work immediately, and she finds herself in the same library where Kondou happens to be. Akira brings up classic Japanese literature (his fave) and asks if he’d recommend anything; he tells her that’s not the best way to discover books, since everyone has different tastes.

He then invites her to explore the library, which he likens to a sea of books, and see what sticks out. She thinks it’s more of an aquarium than a sea, and her surroundings change to match that feeling. She settles on a track-and-field picture book and the famous Souseki novel Botchan.

Juxtaposed with Haruka standing at a bus stop proudly displaying one of the keychains Akira gave her, Akira stands beside Kondou, offering to borrow a book for him to read. Window by the Wave by Kujou Chihiro jumps out at him. They settle up at the front desk, then walk a little ways together before parting for the night, and I can’t help but think finding that book created the tiniest little rift in their flow.

For while Akira was “called” to the library where Kondou was by her black cat keychain, Kondou seems to believe he might’ve been called there by Window on the Wave, calling the author by her first name. Could this book have been written by his ex-wife?

Finally, while walking home the rest of the way, Akira repeats in her head Kondou’s words about a book “calling out to her”, when all of a sudden a gust of wind kicks up and reveals a majestic full moon.

The sight, sound, and feeling of that wind called to mind the same sensations one experiences whilst running at top speed; the feeling she’s loved far longer than she’s loved Kondou.

Koe no Katachi – (Film Review)

Koe no Katachi isn’t just the redemption story of a guy who bullied a deaf girl in elementary school, got caught, became ostracized, and came a hair’s length from offing himself. It’s more than just the tale of a deaf girl trying to do the best she can to fit into a world in which everyone else can hear. It isn’t just the story of a little sister being so worried about her big sister that she neglects her own life.

It’s all of those things, and far more. It’s really a story about all of us, because we all have flaws. We can’t always fix those flaws, either due to lack of understanding or guidance. All of us have at some point or another hurt others, or been selfish, just as others have hurt us or been selfish themselves. These are not unique qualities to have, they are the things that make us human.

Can people truly love themselves, or anyone else, completely unconditionally? Rarely. There are always conditions and compromises, and transactions. Words fly and are heard or not heard, but actions are felt, and ultimately they define us. Not one action or two, but all of the actions in one’s life, good or bad. And the sequence of those actions are crucial.

Ishida Shouya WAS a colossal dick in elementary school. He DID bully Nishimiya Shouko mercilessly until she had to transfer out. When confronted with his crimes, he DID lash out at his friends, who then turned on him one by one. But he’s trying to make things right; he’s trying to make amends. And he’s lucky; Shouko is as kind and forgiving in the present as she was in the past; almost to a fault.

And yet meeting Shouko again, seeing that she harbored no ill will, and even seemed interested in being friends with him aftrer all that happened, changes everything for Shouya. One by one, he makes friends again, through acts of kindness, forgiveness, and selflessness. Yet he learns that friendship isn’t a right attained by fulfilling qualifications or conditions, but about the simple gesture of reaching out and grasping someone else’s hand.

Of course, friendships can and almost always do get a lot more complicated. Back in elementary school, Shouya likely did what he did not just for personal amusement, but for approval and acceptance. When those things suddenly didn’t work, and in fact had the opposite effect, he was suddenly un-moored, and left with nothing but his own regret for all of the pain he caused.

But as long as there are other people in the world who will even consider sharing the same space or breathing the same air, recognizing pain and sharing it is the best way to go. We are social creatures. We may hurt each other sometimes, but we need each other to survive; to help each other live.

Whew…that’s probably enough pretentious babbling like I’m some kind of expert in psychology or sociology for one sitting! It’s just that Koe no Kotachi, as I said, is far more than the sum of its parts, and even those parts are phenomenal in their construction and presentation, be it its fully-realized and complex characters, KyoAni’s seemingly more obsessive-than-usual attention to human and environmental detail, marvelous dialogue, voice acting, music, etc.

Koe no Kotachi is BIG, and it’s often messy, much like life. There are moments of despair and disgust, but also moments of grace and astonishing beauty. Scenes filled with hate and loathing mixed with scenes of love, understanding, and camaraderie.

It’s immensely though-provoking and impeccably performed. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (probably more than you’ll laugh) but mostly it will tear your heart to pieces and then meticulously reconstruct it, bigger and better than ever. Mostly it’s just really really good. I highly recommend it!