Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 11 – What Does Normal Mean?

Ever since that camp kiss I’ve been itching for some kind of confirmation of what was said between Aharen and Raidou, and why she ran to her tent in tears after kissing him. Unfortunately the show has zero interest in elucidating those matters, so the key to enjoying the episodes that follow has been tabling that curiosity and not letting it curdle into frustration.

Once that’s done, one can enjoy the first fallen snow of the season, which Aharen uses to build a giant Shirorin igloo where she dresses up as a maid and lovingly prepares a fancy marinated steak for Raidou’s breakfast. “Official” or not, it’s clear Aharen cares enough about this galoot to go to these lengths.

When she invites him back to the Café Aharen after school, they find it has collapsed, probably due to the heat of that day’s sun. Raidou comforts Aharen by waxing philosphical on the impermanence of all things and offers to help her rebuild. This results in the construction of a Godzilla igloo…for some reason.

After their efforts, Raidou notices Aharen’s hands are red and shivering, so he takes them into his and warms them up. Lest there be any doubt about Aharen’s feelings for Raidou, she warms up extremely quickly while the redness becomes localized in the facial area.

The next day Aharen greets and walks so stiffly, Raidou wonders if she’s turned into some kind of Mega Man. They go to the nurse’s office, but neither the nurse nor Ooshiro are there, so Raidou volunteers to help her stretch. Turns out she can take quite a bit more force than he expected, as his efforts to go easy on her only lead to her wanting more.

When Aharen notices Raidou is also stiff in the back and shoulders, she agrees to walk on his back. She’s worried she’s “too heavy”, but he says he’s not that delicate, and indeed she’s the perfect weight an her steps the perfect rhythm to lull him to sleep. Aharen tries to use this to steal another kiss, but the nurse arrives at just the wrong moment.

It’s comforting to know I am not the only one curious about what happened at the camping trip; audience surrogates and “normal kids” Satou and Ishikawa are trying to determine the same thing.

In the process, Satou and Ishikawa have a nice little one-on-one chat where she notes that everyone around them is so weird she wonders if she’s not normal for being normal, while Ishikawa, her childhood friend, tells her he likes the variety, and also thinks she’s interesting too. Maybe these two normies should be looking in a mirror as to who is dating whom!

The next day is the weekend, and without explanation we see Raidou in street clothes waiting for Aharen, who was up late deciding what to wear. This is clearly date stuff, but neither of them comments on it, because they probably aren’t aware.

Raidou assumed Aharen wanted to participate in the blade spinner tournament at the mall, but for much of their date she seems to be surveying all the available food, leading him to wonder if she’s secretly a hotel tycoon. Aharen clears things up; she’s going all-out for her family’s New Years dinner.

Just when Raidou is starting to realize this might be, if not a date, a very good day, Futaba and Akkun show up. Akkun sees Aharen clinging to Raidou and challenges the “junior apprentice” to a blade spinner duel at the tournament. Both lose in the first round, while Aharen wins her fifth straight Ultimate Division belt. Turns out she stayed up late customizing her spinner after choosing what to wear!

Finally, the definition of their day comes down to the mouths of babes, specifically Futaba. When Raidou describes what he and Aharen have done, she informs them that that’s, like…a damn date. With that realization, Aharen once again turns red and starts steaming.

Even if we’re not getting any straight or normal answers, it’s pretty clear these two are an inseparable pair, and actions matter more than definitions. As for why Ooshiro was absent this entire episode? She’s been training her mind and body for what seems to be a final challenge to Raidou.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 08 – Esteem in the Bloodstream

Toubaru-sensei has taken note of the supreme squeeness of AhaRaidou and its deleterious effects on her health, which is why she’s made a habit of imagining the pair in all manner of adorable romantic situations while safe in her bed at night. Unfortunately, the real thing proves far more esteemed than she could imagine, as she watches the “nuclear esteemed family” dynamic of the two plus Ooshiro play out on the rooftop.

It is fortunate that Toubaru’s, or should I say Momo’s friend and fellow teacher Miyahara-sensei is well-equipped to deal with her reactions to the pure innocent romance she watches unfold. That night, she tries to imagine ever more ludicrous scenarios (with Aharen and Raidou’s characters changing completely) and almost bleeds to death in her sleep. Thankfully Miyahara had a spare key!

Ishikawa and Satou may not be the most dynamic side characters (honestly they’re bland as wallpaper paste, and probably intentionally so to serve as amiable straight men. But one thing they do do is give Aharen and Raidou an opportunity to go to a festival together, so they’re not all bad! Aharen looks appropriately angelic in her yukata.

She’s also appropriately ravenous, visiting every food stall and spending all her money before Raidou can finish explaining his grand strategic plan for “winning the festival”. Meanwhile, Toubaru and Miyahara-sensei also attend the festival, and Toubarou proceeds to lose a lot of blood for the second day in a row.

Otherwise it’s a perfect evening for our main couple, until it’s not; Raidou not only loses his phone, but Aharen, as Futaba ended up holding his hand believing him to be her dad. After taking Futaba to the lost child desk and reuniting her with said dad (after which she properly expresses her gratitude for once) the gods smile on our couple, as Aharen appears right beside him at that very lost child desk (naturally, the guy assigned to the desk assumes Raidou is her guardian.

Aharen is so happy and relieved to see Raidou, she sheds a tear. After all this dilly-dallying though, the two have to book it to get a good fireworks viewing spot. Ultimately, any spot is good for the nearly 2-meter-tall Raidou. When Aharen can’t see due to being small, he hoists her onto his shoulders, and she experiences a whole new world.

Later, after he daintily repairs her broken sandal strap, he offers his hand so they can go find the others. She hesitates, but ultimately takes it and proceeds to blush profusely. She’s grabbed him so many times, but in this time and place, it feels different. If the show is serious about progressing these feelings further, I’m looking forward to watching it happen…while making sure I’m more prepared than Toubaru-sensei was this week!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 07 – More Aharen Than Aharen

Aharen may be tiny, but she needs a lot of food to keep going, so when she forgets to bring the lunch she made to school, it’s a major problem. Aharen decides to brave the chaotic school store, but even when Raidou puts her on his shoulders and powers through, her voice is too quiet to be heard. Ultimately the problem is solved when her dog Nui delivers her lunch. What a good boy!

After lunch, Raidou and Aharen play Go Fish with Ishikawa and Satou, their official second and third friends at school after Ooshino. Despite dealing the cards an possessing a multi-stage strategy for victory, Aharen runs roughshod over those plans, beating him twice on account of both luck and his misinterpretation of her expressions.

When it’s time to go to a different room for science class, Raidou notes how Aharen doesn’t move after waking up, chalking it up to the rebellious teenage urge to cut class. Turns out she was asleep in the same position so long she can’t move. Raidou resolves to carry her on his back—for the rest of their days, if necessary—but she soon regains the ability to move. Her issue is she stayed up late thinking of what side dishes she should make for Raidou’s lunch. What a keeper!

Turns out Futaba believes the way to her Akkun’s heart is through his stomach, so she challenges Futaba to a lunch duel. Aharen dusts her easily, but is magnanimous in victory, giving Futaba a cooking lesson in the home ec classroom. When Futaba returns the next day cursing Aharen for “poisoning” her lunch, Raidou points out the need to make a fresh lunch, otherwise it spoils.

The last and most hilarious skit involves an art project. After attempting to draw a landscape and then Aharen (who gets self-conscious about being observed), he settles on a graphite self-portrait. Aharen, on the other hand, has a much more ambitious plan: a full-size doll of herself.

When Raidou first spots it, he assumes she’s stopped breathing and administers CPR. Then Aharen insists on taking her home, where he positions her right beside his bed, where he’s already got the crane game dolls surrounding his head, makes for a most unsettling sleeping setup. How wonderfully bizarre!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 05 – Win-Win

When Aharen tells Raidou about a Pokemon Go-style mobile game that was launched seven years ago like it’s a new trend, he dusts off his maxed-out Yankee Godzilla character, believing her tiny, harmless-looking Shirorin will be no match against him. He’s eager to score a win against Aharen, but instead he gets stomped. It’s the classic Cactuar Conundrum: tiny and cute doesn’t automatically spell weak.

We’ve seen how strong Aharen is in the crane game department, so when Futaba spends almost all her pocket change in vain trying to win a Yankee Godzilla doll, Aharen proceeds to win nine of them. I don’t think she’s trying to show up a kid; merely show her how it’s done. She even leaves a gimme right near the out spout for Futaba to win with her last 100-yen coin.

The next segment is one of those that crops up often in a 4-panel comic: where one character changes dramatically—in this case Raidou becoming overweight overnight. When it dawns on Aharen it could be her fault for feeding him so much of her massive lunches, she reads up on dieting, hoping to help him.

But when Raidou spots her with the diet book, he assumes she’s trying to diet, something he doesn’t think is necessary, so he decides to lead by example and show her that exercise, not dieting, is the key to success. He loses all the weight he gained, only to learn Aharen never had any intention of dieting…but will surely consider leaner lunches in future!

The re-slimmed Raidou is in trouble; if he fails the midterms he’ll have to take supplementary classes. To avoid this, he proposes that he and Aharen study together, assuming from her serene demeanor that she’s already fully prepared to do well in the exams.

The two try a number of different venues for their studying, but be it the library, a restaurant, or the park, they find themselves distracted by something and can’t study. Ultimately, the classroom turns out to be the ideal spot for studying, with their desks pushed together as usual.

When Aharen, Raidou, and two classmates have after-school cleaning duty, Raidou marvels at how seriously Aharen takes this. She’s so professional in her cleaning, his vivid imagination starts to wonder if she’s also a cleaner, i.e. an assassin. She certainly seems to have a cool head for it…

After the other two kids leave, Aharen tries to move a dusted bookshelf back where it belongs, only to lose her balance and almost have it fall on her. Raidou exhibits catlike reflexes by rushing to Aharen’s rescue. Later, they continue studying, and Raidou thanks her for helping him with studying. Aharen’s response is so quiet even his trained ears can’t hear…

…So she draws closer to him and gathers him into a long, warm, affectionate hug. She expresses her happiness at being able to finally help Raidou, after all this time she’s caused trouble and relied upon him. Raidou’s response is as expected: he’s never once thought she was trouble, and he relies on her too, so he thanks her in return.

It’s easily the swetest and most romantic things have ever gotten between these two. So many anime couples have trouble communicating, but these two are crystal clear in how they feel about one another, and aren’t even embarrassed to walk about arm-in-arm or to share such a long hug.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 11

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A night at Sakurako’s moves Minami to tell her Hitoe’s location, and when they find her covered in butterflies the worst is feared. Alas, “only” her dog is dead and attracting the insects; she merely took a non-lethal dose of sleeping pills and soon wakes up. Not shortly thereafter, Hector barks from outside, announcing he’s found what Sakurako was hoping to find: more bones. Specifically, the bones of a young woman; Minami and Hitoe’s friend Futaba. And that’s far from all that’s unearthed this week.

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Minami recounts the tale of how Futaba showed her and Hitoe this abandoned cabin in the woods, and they made it their home, their place where they belonged. All three of them had their problems, but Futaba was the worst, and soon wanted to enter a suicide pact with the other two. Hitoe agreed, but Minami didn’t want to die, so she ran. When she returned later, Futaba was dead, having hung herself, while Hitoe injured her hands trying to save her.

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Minami buried the body, and that was that. Only…Sakurako-san wasn’t born yesterday by any stretch, and Futaba’s bones tell her a far different story. Not a story of Futaba hanging herself as Hitoe struggled to stop her, but a story of being strangled to death, as indicated by bones that would not have been broken by hanging, and the dubiousness of dying while hanging so low her feet touched the ground.

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Hitoe can’t keep up the fiction any longer, though she kept it hidden within her memory for so long, it flows out like a river through breached dam, all anger and despair. Futaba gave her an ultimatum: she’d either help her kill herself, or she’d kill her, then commit suicide. It was an impossible situation for Hitoe, who comes out and blames Minami for running. Had she been there, maybe Futaba would have kept it together a little longer (though considering both she and Hitoe were already considering suicide when Minami fled, I doubt it).

Isozaki is able to calm Hitoe, and puts all the blame on himself, not for failing to see the pain his three students were in, but for seeing the pain, and turning away, not wanting to be hurt himself.

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After burying Futaba, Minami and Hitoe drifted apart, partly because Hitoe started seeing other friends, partly because Hitoe reminded Minami of what happened to Futaba. Then she met Hanabusa, who she waxes poetic about as if her mind had been programmed to say these things. But it wasn’t; she simply fell victim to the honeyed words of a criminal mastermind, just as Hitoe would, and just as many other victims have.

Sakurako knows Hanabusa never loved Minami—that he’s incapable of loving anyone unless they’re bleach bones—and that Minami was just another pawn in his game. The thing is, she doesn’t really need to be so blunt about all these things at this particular time. For someone so good at detecting, she fails to read the room, and turns her back on Minami, who can’t handle what she’s saying and tries to stab her with a palette knife.

But Sakurako doesn’t get stabbed, because Shoutarou comes between her and Minami, catching the knife in his side. Remembering her brother, who apparently drowned in a rainstorm, she shouts out Shoutarou’s name.

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But it’s all okay; the stabbing wasn’t precise, nor was it lethal. Shou will be fine. But Sakurako isn’t. It was too close a call for her. As she hits the home stretch on tracking down the “abyss” that is Hanabusa, Sakurako has unilaterally decided she and Shou must part ways. It almost feels like a breakup…because it is, and Shou is heartbroken. But the bottom line is, Hanabusa is a dangerous, brilliant son of a bitch, and while Sakurako loves bones, she never wants to see Shoutarou’s.

Will Shoutarou really accept this? He’s too shocked and overwhelmed to protest here, but once he’s discharged, I wonder how Sakurako will keep him away, and whether he’ll honor her selfish desire to go it alone with Hanabusa. I’m hoping he won’t, because as the tear Sakurako sheds indicates, these two people belong together. Call them soul mates, if you will.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 10

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While on a bonehunt with Sakurako and Shoutarou, Isozaki-sensei gets called away by news that his former student Hitoe has disappeared. Sakurako offers to give him a lift, but is really interested in the mystery sticking with him offers. Hitoe is the second of three once-inseparable friends who were students in Isozaki’s homeroom.

Saku instantly notices how personal he’s taken the disappearance of the first and how he couldn’t bear to lose another. He also sees how he atones for not being able to do anything about the first girl who disappeared, Minami. When they visit Hitoe’s rich and haughty parents who know nothing about their daughter, Saku is disgusted, gathers all the clues she can about where Hitoe may be headed (a few days’ clothes and a phone battery away) and gets the hell out of there.

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We finally see Hitoe, the girl from last week’s cold open, still in a kind of trance, or possibly drugged, with her little dog and a bed covered in bandage wrappers, talking to her “sensei” about her “wings.” Shou learns from Yuriko that Hitoe modeled for a painter and was rumored to be dating him as well. So there’s the “sensei.” (Speaking of senseis, Yuriko makes sure to apologize for her harsh words to Isozaki, now that she knows he does know what it’s like to suddenly lose someone.)

They then visit Minami’s apartment, a far more downscale affair than Hitoe’s, and Sakurako gets a lot more out of Minami’s mom, who is at least in tune with her daughter’s life than Hitoe’s mom, even if she doesn’t know the full picture. When Saku finds the painting Minami modeled for—with a butterfly on her back just like a painting Hitoe modeled for—that picture starts coming together: we have a predatory artist who lures girls in with the promise of “wings” that will take them away from their awful homes and lives.

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Saku finds multiple receipts for a particular restaurant (not Wagnaria) in Minami’s dustbin, and that leads them right to her, where she’s anemic, exhausted, and clearly still traumatized by what she’s been through. Still, she tries to hold onto her secrets as long as she can, though Sakurako sees through her physical tics and decides a change of venue is better.

She takes Minami into her house and has Gran fill her belly. Perhaps, when she’s ready, she’ll be able to say more about Hanabusa-sensei, the painter both she and Hitoe loved.

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After a day when he got a good look at Sakurako’s ass when she was rummaging under Minami’s bed, Sakurako continues to surprise Shoutarou by personally inviting him for breakfast in the morning, a first for her. But in his monologue as the episode ends and we see the butterfly design etched into the showering Minami’s flesh with a painter’s knife, a future Shou recalls that while he was happy about Saku’s invitation, he had no idea at the time what her true intentions were, and the bones she truly sought.

This was another strikingly different episode from an anime that has always confidently blazed its own trail, exploring unique specific themes such as friends from different backgrounds, how friendships crumbled when they desired the same thing; the differences in their relationships with their mothers; the fact that ennui, depression, and the desire to rebel stretches across class and status.

This episode took a look into the secret world of young people most adults including their parents never see nor hear, and so may as well not exist to them; entire galaxies of hidden ideas and dreams, and one insidious little mini-cult of three, all worshiping this Hanabusa fellow who still lurks about in his coat and hat. He has much to answer for.

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