My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 05 – The Moon Is Beautiful

One night, before they started going out, Mizuto and Yume were in adjacent rooms on a middle school class trip. When they both looked out their windows at the full moon, Mizuto said Tsuki ga kirei desu ne, which means “The moon is beautiful, isn’t it?” but can also be an artful way of saying “I love you”. It’s a night Mizuto still hasn’t forgotten…even though it must’ve been more than what, two years ago?!

Fast-forward to the present, and Mizuto is being a big ‘ol jerk about not wanting to go shopping with Yume for Mother’s Day, even though they had plenty of fun on their date the other day. Yume convinces him to come with a fetching ” ooting” outfit, and when they’re on a crowded train and a bump causes Mizuto to pin her between the side of the car and him, she tells him not to pull away, as it will only keep happening with every bump.

The two settle on a bouquet of carnations, which is a pretty standard go-to Mother’s Day gift. But their mom is so happy to receive them that she runs away in tears. As we know, these are good kids, and making their mom/stepmom happy makes them happy. Mizuto may put out Ayanokouji vibes, but he’s nothing like that sociopath!

That evening, Yume notices the door at the end of the hall is open a crack – a beam of the setting sun gleams through, lighting motes of dust in the air. She finds Mizuto inside, praying to his mother’s shrine. Mizuto’s mom died when he was very small, such that her shrine photo is is only visual link to her.

Not only aware this is no time for sniping but genuinely wanting to support Mizuto during a lonely moment, she cuddles up next to him, like a “big sister” should. That’s when Mizuto says that since their parents are newlyweds, they should give them a night alone sometime. That of course means the two of them would have to spend the night…somewhere else.

Yume turns all sorts of shades of pink and red as Mizuto runs by what’s possible and not possible, even admitting to looking into love hotel rates. But since they both know that might just be taking things a bit far considering their history, Mizuto instead asks Kawanami if he can spend the night at his place.

Yume, in turn, can stay at Minami’s…because Minami and Kawanami are not only childhood friends as we all suspected, but also next-door neighbors. Due to that prodigious amount of time so close to one another, they’re basically more siblings than Yume and Mizuto.

Kawanami has a little fun with the paper-thin walls by acting like Mizuto is talking about Yume’s boobs (causing her to attack the wall), while Mizuto gets payback by reading Kawanami’s elementary school report on wanting to be a police officer so he can marry Minami (causing her to attack the wall).

Kawanami and Minami’s easy, lived-in rapport carries over when they both independently pick the same family restaurant to take Mizuto and Yume to dinner. Kawanami and Minami each know exactly what the other is going to order, while the two even have a shared laugh at the stebsiblings’ expense when they both show they have no idea about soda fountain protocol.

After dinner, Minami gets all cuddly with Mizuto about tutoring her in Japanese, but Mizuto shuts her down by declaring that Yume is the far more appropriate choice for a tutor since she “works so hard” for her grades while he puts in very little effort.

Later that night, Kawanami is bored that Mizuto is just studying, so he texts Minami, which again seems like a common occurrence. They may say they have nothing to do with each other, but they’re fooling absolutely no one—including themselves.

Kawanami and Miniami are so in sync they even fall asleep at the same time, while Mizuto and Yume go out on their respective balconies to admire a full moon. When Mizuto hears Yume on the other side he peeks over to find her in cute frog jammies Minami “made” her wear.

Then Yume says “Tsuki ga kirei desu ne”, confirming she too remembers that night of the school trip when he dropped that “pretentious come-on”.  That said, she basically admits that was when she started liking him. Mizuto says there’s no point in telling him that now, but it’s clear he was happy she remembered that night as vividly as he did.

They both ponder whether all the time Kawanami and Minami have spent together “means” anything, being so close together for so long. As for the two of them, Mizuto believes it isn’t likely their folks will split up, so they’re “stuck as stepsiblings until the end of time.” While he tries to make that sound like the same “hell” Kawanami claims living beside Minami to be, both of them are vastly overstating their torment.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

RWBY: Ice Queendom – 01-03 (First Impressions) – Uncut Gems

01 – Dust to Dust

Based on a popular web comic I haven’t had the pleasure of ever seeing (probably true of a lot of viewers), the charmingly vowel-less RWBY blast out of the gate with not one or two but three episodes, giving us over an hour for the titular quartet to be introduced separately, meet, clash, and learn to get along. It’s not groundbreaking stuff but it’s well-executed and excels at details.

Our cheerful, bright silver-eyed co-protagonist is Ruby Rose, who is both proud and jealous of her big sister Yang getting into the illustrious Beacon Academy, where talented youngsters who have mastered Aura and awakened their Semblances are trained into Hunters and Huntresses to fight their worlds great scourge, the Grimm. (Hope you like proper nouns because there’s lots.)

While Ruby and Yang live modestly with their pops, aristocrat and heiress Weiss Schnee longs for the same thing they do: to become a Huntress. The only problem is she has to prove to her father she can do it by defeating a Grimm in her ultra-rich family’s great hall.

This is our first taste of RWBY’s battle action, and…it’s great. No notes. Creative, lyrical, fluid, bombastic, badass, awesome…it’s all of those things, and without too much reliance on CGI. While her first round with the Grimm gives her an eye wound that leads to a scar, Weiss gets her second wind and shows her father once and for all she’s Beacon material.

Our fourth co-protagonist is a Faunus (demihuman) and part of White Fang, a group she leaves when it becomes to radicalized and bent towards exacting revenge against full humans rather than building bridges. Her One Last Job with White Fang is another excellent demonstration of RWBY’s awesome production values and ability to stir up excitement for a fight.

Perhaps the most fun sequence is when some thieves try to steal aura in a store that happens to be open late (note to store owner: have a security guy on duty). Ruby almost misses the robbery due to her blasting metal on her headphones, but when she becomes aware of their presence, she wastes no time showing off her powers, not to mention her penchant for cool poses and beautiful rose petal-filled physical fluorishes.

The thing is, while Ruby has talent, she’s not trained and lacks authority and experience. She’s able to keep up with the thieves right up until they escape in their airship, which is when Professor Glynda Goodwitch from Beacon Academy, a full-fledged Huntress, steps in.

The baddies get away, but Glynda wasn’t there for them, she was there to bring Ruby before Beacon’s headmaster, Ozpin. The good cop to Glynda’s bad, he offers Ruby tea and cookies and, oh yeah, the offer for her to skip two grades and enroll at Beacon beside her sister with immediate effect. I guess Ozpin needs Huntresses and feels Ruby, while rough, is ready to be polished.

That night, having run from White Fang, Blake gets an acceptance letter from Beacon on her tablet, setting her on her own path rather than following the one she was born into. That’s how Ruby, Yang, Blake and Weiss all end up on the same airship bound for their Beacon Academy initiation ceremony.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

02 – A Union of Colors

The first episode ably introduced our four main heroines, and the second expands the cast with four of their classmates and puts all eight into their first battle together. But first, Yang tries to heed their dad’s advice and wean Ruby off her a bit by encouraging her to make friends. Ruby and Yang first introduce themselves to Blake, who would rather read her book, and then Weiss and Blake clash over Schnee’s alleged corruption and the evilness of Faunus.

We also meet the unconfident Jaune Arc, who makes fast friends with the statuesque, famous Pyrrha Nikos, while Lie Ren and Nora Valkyrie seem to have been close friends all along. It’s trial by fire as Beacon literally puts the new students on catapults and launches them into the sky. The first person they meet is their partner, and two pairs will make a team of four for their entire four-year stay at Beacon.

The mission is simple: make their way through the forest to a temple where they’ll retrieve a chess piece. Naturally, the forest is full of Grimm. Also naturally, Ruby and Weiss end up encountering each other first, while Yang first runs into Blake.

Weiss doesn’t take Ruby seriously at first because she both seems and is younger and seems like a show-off. That said, when they start to encounter more dangerous Grimm, they have no choice but to work together. Yang and Blake don’t clash quite as much, but the former is more chipper and gung-ho while the latter more stoic and serious.

Ruby, Weiss, Blake and Yang end up working together to bring the aerial Grimm boss down—and with quite a bit of style, I might add. Jaune, Nora, Pyrrha and Ren also distinguish themselves while forming their team. Back at Beacon, the two quartets officially become RWBY, both pronounced and led by Ruby, and JNPR, pronounced “juniper” and led by Jaune.

03 – Bridges and Nightmares

With the two groups formed and enrolled, the third and final introductory episode starts throwing conflicts both internal and external at the groups. While the quartet has fun redecorating their dorm, when it comes time to class all of Ruby’s energy washes away.

Weiss is the first to volunteer to defeat a Grimm in class, and it rubs her the wrong way when Ruby, her “leader”, is cheering her on. When she skulks away and Ruby chases after her, both are found by teachers, who give both of them a pep talk. Ozpin assures Ruby that her being chosen as the leader was no accident, and that she’ll learn to grow into the role and inspire her teammates.

Even if we know Weiss doesn’t get everything she wants like the other professor presumed (she’s a middle child after all), she should worry less about who is leader and more about being the best teammate she can be, as it could make the difference between victory and defeat; life and death.

Starting with the welcoming ceremony and touched on here and there are the presence of two creepy things: weird branch-like marks on the backs of both Weiss and Jaune, and shadow-like doppelgangers of the two sneaking around, who only they can see.

Shortly after losing a battle with another dude and being shown his Aura by Pyrrha, Jaune’s condition gets worse, while after making an effort to be a good teammate to Ruby, Weiss’ marks also spread.

Jaune is the first to succumb, as one morning his teammates are unable to wake him. Shion Zaiden is brought in, since she specializes in hunting Nightmares—Grimm that take over the mind of their hosts and trap them in their dreams. She sets up an elaborate system to send the other members of JNPR into his mind to rescue him and draw the Nightmare out.

It works like a jiffy—indeed, he’s saved and the Grimm captured almost too quickly and easily. It was nice to see how well JNPR has gelled compared to the more dysfunctional RWBY. That said, I’m glad the focus wasn’t taken off of the main group of RWBY, as focus returns to them in the second half of the episode.

Jaune’s infection-by-Nightmare is foreshadowing for Weiss’, as like Jaune she’s going through some emotional conflict. While RWBY goes into town for an annual festival, it’s interrupted by news of a Faunus castaway on the run. Weiss and Blake get into it over human-Faunus relations and the nature of White Fang.

While trying to chase the castaway, Weiss bumps into Penny, a very robotic-seeming girl who is the cast’s newest member. But when Blake can’t handle Weiss’ prejudice anymore she runs off, and eventually the castaway finds her without the black bow that covers her cat ears and knows he’s with his brethren.

The thing is, Weiss isn’t a 100% racist monster, she’s just never contemplated the possibility someone like Blake could have once been in White Fang. Yang is there to see Weiss finally break down and cry over her frustration with how things have been going, but it’s a cathartic cry, not one of hopelessness.

When the same criminals who robbed the aura store in the first episode try to pull off a heist at the docks, it ends up being Penny who shuts it all down all by her lonesome, once again indicating she’s not human either. But when RWBY reunites, Weiss tells Blake she’s ready to look past her prejudices and see Blake for who she is, a classmate, a teammate, and hopefully one day soon, a friend.

But as had been heavily telegraphed, Weiss was eventually going to fall into the same briar patch as Jaune did, the product of being infected by a Nightmare. This leads to some creepy but also eerily beautiful final moments of the episode as she’s trapped in those brambles.

The big question for the fourth episode is, will Weiss allow Ruby, Blake and Yang into her mind as easily as Jaune let his teammates in, and will she prove harder to rescue from her dreams?

There’s an adage that three episodes are enough to know whether you want to continue with an anime. Honestly, it’s takes me everywhere between one and twelve, but one thing I can say for sure is that I’ll be sticking with RWBY. 

More often than not it looks and sounds fantastic, the character dynamics and conflicts sufficiently compelling, its world is elaborate and whimsical, and the Grimm are a multifaceted, credible threat. Finally, with a cliffhanger like this I await the fourth episode with great anticipation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

A Couple of Cuckoos – 10 – Cup Ramen and Foie Gras

When Erika takes off to hang out with her mom (the one who raised her) Sachi doesn’t waste the sudden opportunity to hang out with her Onii. She ostensibly wants to buy a gift for their mom, but both of seem to agree their mom isn’t much of a gift receiver, so you have to think part of her just wants to see what it’s like to go on something like a date with Nagi.

The two settle on an apron (and sure enough, their mom could take or leave it) but when Sachi comes upon the idea, Nagi rewards her with a head pat, which pisses her off to no end. As much as she pretends not to stand him, Sachi wants Nagi to see her as a girl, not an imouto. Alas, he’s utterly oblivious. He just wants to study and win Hiro, which is why he’s probably none too pleased about suddenly being yanked out of the house by Erika.

Erika, who herself was blissfully reveling in her first cup ramen, got a text from her dad saying he’s coming—no discussion, not argument, he’s just coming and that’s that—so she ditches both wallet and phone, grabs Nagi, and heads out. Where doesn’t matter; that even she’s not sure is the point. No GPS or purchase history means even someone as rich and powerful as her dad can’t find her if she doesn’t want to see him.

Instead, Sachi is person who encounters her dad making himself at home in the house. She initially thinks he’s a burglar, but she should have called the cops anyway, considering he later lures her out and plys her with foie gras. I’m with the wait staff of his restaurant: it’s weird that he suddenly takes Sachi out to dinner.

Sachi is there for the foie gras, and also considers it equitable to tell Erika’s father about how she and Nagi are getting along. She probably doesn’t realize she’s being a snitch, because she’s distracted by the fact this is another opportunity for her: if she says they’re terrible together, she could potentially be able to swoop in and have Nagi to herself (again).

But Sachi is not a bad person, so she tells Erika’s father the truth: as mismatched as their personalities seem, Erika and Nagi definitely have a spark—je ne fois gras, if you will. Their chat is interposed between scenes of Nagi showing Erika a good time with zero yen thanks to a steep hill and a piece of cardboard.

As for Erika’s increasingly creepy dad, he heads into his office to admire a framed photo of him and Erika’s dad with Erika…and Nagi, looking like older toddlers. This is strange, as my understanding is they were separated at birth; this suggests they were reunited at some point. It also gives credence to the fact the “certain someone” Erika is trying to reach through SM is, in fact, Nagi, and the two of them simply somehow forgot they knew each other as kids.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 09 – Batting Off Steam

While informing Nagi the bath is free, Sachi’s towel slips off, but in a nice subversion of the trope, Nagi isn’t awake to see anything. Sachi, however, sees one of Hiro’s texts on his phone, referencing a d-d-d-date. The next morning, Erika finds Nagi all dressed up and ready to go. Nagi meets Hiro resplendent in comfy casual clothes, and is excited for their date, but also expects it to be another shrine stamp-collecting affair.

So he’s surprised to find Hiro has taken them to an amusement park. She usually goes alone, so it’s significant she’s bringing him along. Yes, she is doing it in part for the couples discount, but also because she believes Nagi can “keep up” with her. That proves mostly true, as Nagi accompanies her on every heart-racing ride again and again, and even accidentally kisses a reflection of her in the hall of mirrors.

Back home Erika finds Sachi texting curses to her brother and confirms that he’s on a date with a Hiro-chan, appreciating that Sachi feels like the other girl is taking her brother away. Sachi is also upset he’s out on a date when he’s engaged, calling it “indecent”—something Erika never considered as she never planned to actually marry the guy. No Nagi around affords the biological sisters another opportunity to hang out, as Erika tags along when Sachi goes on her usual de-stressing trip to the batting cages and public bath.

Nagi returns home having felt like his date with Hiro was a “disaster”, but he’s way overreacting. There’s nothing wrong with a girl saying she thinks you’re “cute”, and it’s obvious she had a lot of fun by the way she was humming when they parted ways. A few hours later, at three in he morning, Nagi and Sachi’s dad (and Erika’s biological dad) arrives at their door, saying they’re all going fishing.

Turns out this is a tradition for both Nagi and Nagi’s dad, though Nagi always gets seasick and always says he has a terrible time. His dad though, has always picked times when he knew Nagi was down, and there’s nothing like fishing to take you out of a bad place and into a better one. While Erika and Sachi compete for the biggest catch, Nagi admits to his dad that he “doesn’t hate” his life right now.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A Couple of Cuckoos – 08 – Family’s Complicated

While Erika is out shopping, Nagi is preoccupied with her words on the beach about his “fate changing” if he knew who she was trying to reach through social media. That’s when Sachi shows up unannounced. With Erika out, she assumes Nagi messed things up, and gets him to reveal the issue.

Spending time with Sachi for the first time in a while gives him a taste of home, so he stops moping and remembers Umino family tradition to deal with things head-on. Only Sachi slips out while he’s making dinner and returns to the family’s tiny temporary rental, only to pack her things and head right back to Nagi and Erika’s.

Nagi, who gets a call from his mom saying Sachi has to come back tomorrow, tells Sachi she can’t stay, but it’s not just his call. It’s half Erika’s place too, and she doesn’t mind if her sister wants to stay. There’s also the matter of her needing help studying for entrance exams, and Erika dresses up like a stereotypical schoolteacher for that end.

That said, once she and Sachi are alone togeher, Erika manages to suss out the true reason her sister is there. When Erika suddenly showed up at her place, Sachi panicked. Would Nagi marry her and just be gone? She thought she had more time with her onii. She wanted more time. When they were little, they were very close. She pretends he’s a pain in the ass, but that clinginess still lingers.

The next morning Sachi earns her keep by making everyone a huge breakfast, then Erika takes her and Nagi out shopping for the things that will make Sachi more at home. In the process, the sister talk about how they’re always being flirted with and turning guys down.

Sure enough, they soon attract a crowd of onlookers while hanging out at a café. Nagi rushes to them, worried they got caught up in something, but trips and makes a fool of himself. That’s when both Erika and Sachi acknowledge him and suggest they get going, and it dawns on Nagi that his fiancée and sister are “kind of a big deal”.

The three have fun making a photo board, and christen it with a cute photo of the sisters and a very blurry Nagi rushing into the frame. But through all the eating and shopping and fun, he hasn’t been able to talk to Erika about what she said that day on the beach. So when she’s out of the bath, he’s kneeling in the hall, ready to talk.

He tells her he recognizes that everyone has their problems even if they don’t talk about him, and that he doesn’t just want to pry out of curiosity. But Erika said what she said, and Nagi heard her, and he doesn’t want to pretend that exchange didn’t happen. He may have been raised to face people head-on, but he admits to her he’s not ready for an answer that may “change his fate,” so he asks her to wait until he’s ready.

Erika’s serious look is soon replaced by a hearty laugh, but she agrees, and so her mystery remains intact. While this outing brought Sachi more to the forefront and made her more of, well, a character, I could never quite shake the feeling the episode was dragging its feet. The household has grown by one, but it feels like no one is taking the situation seriously yet; it’s just three people playing house. I wonder how long that status quo can hold.

Spy x Family – 10 – Star Seizer Anya

Professor Henderson continues to observe rancor between Damian and his lackeys and Anya and Becky, while the M.V.P. of a P.E. dodgeball tournament is rumored to be awarded a Stella. Loid steps back and leaves Anya’s intense training to Yor, and we’re awarded a lovely Rocky-style montage of Yor being her usual badass self and Anya just barely keeping up, while also learning the merits of hard work and stick-to-itiveness.

Of course, Anya isn’t the only one who wants that Stella for her dad’s mission. Damian believes he needs to be the first to earn a Stella, and Anya can read his mind as he reveals why: as the second son, if he doesn’t meet or surpass his older brother, his father won’t notice him. Damian may be a “shithead”, but he’s not iredeemable.

As for the third student rearin’ for that MVP star, we have our first exercise in Spy x Family descending into the absurd with Bill Watkins, who despite being six years old has the physique of Brock Lesnar. Just the sight of the large lad amongst all his tiny-mite classmates is enough to elicit a hearty chuckle; learning his dad is literally M. Bison kicked that up to a full belly laugh.

Against a normal human opponent, Damian’s shot and his teamwork with his lackeys would likely be enough to win the match and earn MVP (I got a kick out of the Calvin & Hobbes-style bending of reality in the glimpses of their training). Unfortunately, like being born second, Damian has he misfortune of having Watkins for an opponent.

Bill easily catches Damian’s best shot and takes out four opposing players at once. Damian’s lackeys sacrifice themselves to keep him in the game. When it’s down to Damian, Anya, and a third guy, Bill targets Anya, but thanks to a combination of knowing where he’ll throw it and Yor’s training, he just can’t hit her, and soon shows his age by getting very frustrated.

That leads to him yelling “DIE!” and forgetting all about “going easy on the women” by firing a fastball directly at Anya, who is a sitting duck when she trips and falls. This is when Damian exhibits his inherent “goodness” by sacrificing himself so Anya doesn’t take the hit. In that moment, he stopped caring about winning and status, and only cared about Anya’s safety.

After he tsunderes the heck out of his explanation for why he did it, the end result is it’s all up to Anya to bring Watkins down. Recalling Yor’s teachings in the park, Anya unleashes her killer move, “Star Catch Arrow”, and for a moment, appears to become a Powerpuff Girl.

Alas, despite perfect form and creating an intense atmosphere that has both teams and Bill in her thrall, she releases the ball so it bounces straight up into the air, then harmlessly in front of Bill, who swiftly ends the game by beaning a stunned Anya.

The consolation is that no one was ever going to win a Stella for exceling in a game of dodgeball. Henderson doesn’t know how such a silly rumor came about, but does know that anyone who yells “DIE!” in a friendly game is asking for a Tonitrus Bolt! Watkins stands chastened and rebuked.

While he praised her for her “not bad” dodging and took a direct blow for her, Damian is so disappointed in the end result of Anya’s ratcheting up of suspense that he can’t help but yell at her and call her “stubby legs”, even as he’d probably be the first to admit that until those last moments Anya was cool as hell out there. As for Henderson, observing these brats bickering, he wonders if this new class is really worthy of Stella…

This Spy x Family did not care how ridiculous Bill Watkins looked or how seriously this dodgeball game was being taken. It summoned and harnessed the outsized importance of mundane things all little kids engage in, taking after their adult counterparts while infusing the proceedings with their vivid imaginations. The result is another thrilling and hilarious outing.

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 09 – Just One of the Girls

On the second day of the school trip the groups can do what they please. The trio of Sasaki, Katou, and Komi is a little awkward at first, but once they get that Komi isn’t being rude or aloof but is simply a quiet, shy, and often adorable girl, the three girls get into a rhythm that carries them through Katou’s breathless sightseeing schedule.

Whether due to all the energy expended earlier or, more appealingly, the natural ups and downs of companionship, things get a little tense between Sasaki, who says the schedule was too brisk, and Katou, who resents being the only one who thought to make a plan and wanted to see more. Komi bridges the two clashing positions by showing them some photos she took on her phone demonstrating that they did, in fact, have a lot of fun.

Buoyed by Komi’s nice save, and relieved that she was able to repair the vibe just by being her cute guileless self, the three girls continue their tour, heading to a district where Komi gets to dress up like a Geisha, is mistaken for a princess by street performers, and gets rescued by Sasaki in a Hannya mask armed with her trusty…yo-yo?!

Sasaki and Katou came off as pleasantly dull background characters at first, but the more time we and Komi spend with them, they more they come into their own as distinct and appealing characters in their own right. In a cast chock full of sometimes absurd caricatures, their down-to-earthness almost feels exotic…it’s like having two female Tadanos around!

Yet, as we know, while relatively normal on the outside, Sasaki and Katou have super-specific passions: Sasaki for yo-yoing and Katou for shogi. Sasaki tries to hide her secret identity (she genuinely thought Komi was in danger) but Katou plays a shogi match of words. Ultimately Katou loves knowing extraordinary people, not matter what they’re extraordinary at.

That attitude convinces Katou that her talent is something to be flaunted, not embarrassed by…though she keeps the hannya mask on when she flashes her yo-yo for Sasaki and Komi in the hotel room. When the lights go out, the boy talk starts, and we learn Katou likes Katai, Sasaki is single, and the name of the boy Komi likes starts with an H (for Hitohito).

Sasaki and Katou are well aware of how close Komi and Tadano are, and would not be surprised if they’ve been dating for a while. When Komi claims not to know “what liking someone feels like”, they arrange things on the bullet train home so Tadano is sitting next to Komi while she’s sleeping, and her head eventually slides onto Tadano’s shoulder.

This was a lovely outing, with Komi making two new friends, and those friends seeing Komi in a new light not as someone to simply venerate, but someone you can have fun hanging out with. She even sleeps!

A Couple of Cuckoos – 07 – Kamakura Cuckoo

Still stoked over Hiro telling him she thinks he can carry her burden of being engaged to her family shrine, Nagi is presented with a possible means of getting closer still to Hiro: a field trip form from Erika. As he’s the first person Hiro sees the next day, he’s able to ask her if she’ll join his group, and she says yes…but they’re going to be collecting shrine stamps, and she won’t be defeated.

They leave school in a downpour, but to Nagi’s disappointment Hiro did not forget her umbrella. They still walk to the station together, and Nagi brings up his confession, and whether Hiro will really “process” it if he beats her several more times at exams. Hiro then explains that inheriting the shrine is her parents’ idea, and she’s always simply let fate sweep her along.

That said, if Nagi can change her fate, she wants him to try. Of course, he’ll still have to defeat her many times over in order for her to believe he’s amazing enough to deserve a chance. She’s asking a lot, but it’s totally worth it to Nagi.

The previous night Erika told Nagi she wouldn’t be going on the trip for security reasons (she’s famous and could be abducted for a ransom). Why she doesn’t simply have a bodyguard all this time is not explained, but in any case the next night she’s reconsidered, and for Nagi’s sake, no less.

The skinny is that a fourth member has weaseled his way into their trio: walking SM glossary Asoma Shion, who is a big fan (but not stalker) of Erika’s. Erika will keep Shion at bay while Nagi can have his date with Hiro. She’ll also get a lot of great shots of herself at Kamakura.

It seems win-win, but Shion sucks at taking photos, while Nagi is subconsciously so worried about the punk snatching away his fiancée that he spends much of the trip keeping his eye exclusively on Erika and Shion.

When Hiro disappears without explanation and Shion runs off for “‘Grammable ice cream”, Erika and Nagi are left alone on a beach at sunset. Erika makes some sand “””””art”””” for a picture with her and Hiro, but instead has Nagi take a picture of her alone. He tries to keep the phone from her, and inadvertently snaps another perfect shot of the two of them, like it’s just second nature.

She smiles and tells him she still thinks the pictures he takes of her are the best. Then he brings up that mysterious “someone” Erika mentioned wanting to reach through her photos, and asks her who that person is. She seems willing to tell him, but warns him his “fate might change” if she does. Just then, the waves wash away “FRI” from her sand scrawl, leaving only “END”.

Not exactly subtle, but hey, like Nagi, I’m definitely curious to learn who this person is. I was also surprised that after taking great pains to arrange a date-like scenario with Hiro, Nagi spends most of the time paying attention to Erika, even though she was running off with Shion specifically so he could be alone with Hiro. Granted, she’s unaware of Hiro’s “engagement”.

He may have been harboring a crush on Hiro for a long time, and she may even be receptive to his feelings now that she knows his feelings (albeit with some heavy conditions he’s willing to clear) But so far it’s Erika who can claim a closer bond and better chemistry with him.

Spy x Family – 09 – Best Selves

When Loid moves in for that kiss to prove he and Yor are in love, both Yor and Yuri panic; Yor because she’s never been kissed, and Yuri because he always dreamed of marrying Yor and doesn’t want to see her kiss anyone else. Yor chugs the rest of the wine to build up the courage to kiss Loid.

The very moment she can’t go through with it is the same moment Yuri tries to stop her, resulting in Yor slapping the absolute shit out of Yuri. He flies right into his ridiculous bouquet, resulting in a cloud of rose petals that in any other situation would be romantic.

Yor helps Yuri up, Yuri helps Yor stay vertical, and Loid helps keep both of them vertical. He tells them what lovely siblings they are (even with Yuri bleeding profusely) and privately feels envy for their familial bond, as he’s never had that. Unaware that even 2D-chess eludes the Briars, he starts to suspect that Yor might’ve married him at Yuri’s behest to get closer to him.

Yuri is too goofy and his blind spot vis-a-vis Yor is too large for him to feel like any threat to the mission to me, but Twilight is a spy; it’s his job not to trust anyone, even Yor. At the same time, Yor’s inability to kiss Loid or cook has her worried she’s not acting like a proper wife should.

Anya, who slept through the excitement (and really wants to meet her secret police uncle) picks up on these bad vibes, but can’t reassure either parent as it might give away her ability. So as she boards the school bus, she simply tells them they “need to get along”. Loid chalks it up to how “curously observant” kids can be.

Then, he plants a damned bug on Yor in order to listen in on her day, and while she’s out on an errand for her boss, he and Franky stop her while disguised as Secret Police.

If it were anyone other than someone like Loid in the situation he’s in, I would call this obsessive behavior. But if his gut can’t 100% discount that Yor isn’t secretly working with her brother, this is all he can do to assuage his suspicions. Franky predictably buries himself in the part of bad cop, quickly accusing Yor of leaking state secrets.

Throughout her day to that point, Loid had listened in and gotten nothing, and even when Yor’s back is literally against the wall in front of two secret policemen, her “story” doesn’t change, because it isn’t a story: she’s a good citizen (other than the assassinations) who loves her family and country and would never engage in espionage.

When Frankie tries to touch her, Yor restrains him with ease and warns both him and Loid that she doesn’t care who they are or who they work for; she’ll show them no mercy if they hurt her family. Loid takes another look at the letter Yor was mailing and says they made a mistake, and let her go.

Loid won’t admit it, but his relief is soured by guilt he felt going to such lengths to try to catch Yor in a lie. Ironically, she’s able to successfully preserve the actual secret she’s been keeping from Loid all along (that she’s a ruthless super-assassin).

When he meets up with Yor later, she apologizes for not being a proper wife, but Loid comforts her by saying she’s fine the way she is, always striving to be her best self. Everyone puts on acts to some degree, and it grows tiring and eventually intolerable. Better to not put on an act when one is neither desired or needed.

They buy cake to celebrate a year of marriage, and when Anya comes home (her “I HAVE RETURNED” is a great kid greeting), reads their minds, and finds the bad vibes have vanished, her face brightens—Mama and Papa are getting along.

While I’m not the biggest fan of Yuri, I’m glad his antics indirectly led to Loid and Yor clearing the air and growing a little closer. Next week, we return to Eden, and Anya’s solemn mission to befriend a little jerk.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 06 – Naked and Engaged

Erika not only doesn’t have a problem with Nagi confessing to Hiro; she wants to help him, unaware that Hiro is engaged (since Nagi doesn’t share that detail). She tells Nagi that Hiro “putting him on hold” isn’t the end of the world; if she truly didn’t like him she would have summarily rejected him.

For their first study session, Erika and Nagi arrive at school at the same time despite taking different modes of transportation, and despite Erika dressing up like a literal cupid, Hiro can’t help but notice how close the pair seem to be. Erika and Nagi themselves aren’t aware how good they are together!

In an effort to catch up (and eventually beat) Nagi in a contest of with whom Erika is closest, Hiro invites herself over to Erika’s house. She diverts Hiro to her parents’ house, which Nagi believes puts him in the clear to have a nudist evening with their house all to himself. However, Erika’s parents’ house is “being renovated”, so she has no choice but to bring Hiro there.

It’s a classic sitcom scenario in the mold of shows like Fraiser, with Nagi not only having to remove any evidence that he lives there, but spend most of the time hiding around the corner naked. Erika does her best to keep diverting Hiro, but then things get even more complicated when three of Erika’s stalkers show up at her house. Thankfully, Nagi dispatches their leader with ease, and without being detected.

Ultimately, it’s not just about being caught for Nagi. He genuinely wants Erika’s first friendship and first houseguest to go well. That plan is almost torpedoed when Hiro finds his shrine stamp book on the counter, but Erika is able to explain it away as having borrowed the wrong book. This, of course, only confirms to Hiro that Erika and Nagi are very close.

Her solution to that is to invite Erika (and fellow study buddy Nagi) to her house, which turns out to be a huge shrine. Shrine Maiden Hiro is indeed cute as hell, while Hiro’s mom is extremely prejudiced against Nagi, giving him only a small hard candy while Erika gets a delicious-looking jelly roll-like  confection.

Nagi does get a personal shrine stamp from Hiro, who demonstrates that her stamp game is far better than her regular handwriting. When Erika goes to the bathroom, she asks Nagi if he understands now what she meant by “engaged”. She isn’t promised to another man, but is poised to inherit the shrine.

Why that should mean romance is a no-go when—well, she exists, which means her mom and dad had a kid—I don’t know, but Hiro doesn’t want to burden Erika with such a “heavy truth”. As for why she told Nagi? She thought he could handle that burden. He may be “on hold” indefinitely, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t like and respect him.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A Couple of Cuckoos – 05 – Shrine Stamp Maiden

Nagi is loathing returning to school, not sure he can face Segawa Hiro after she rejected him because she was already engaged. However, once he actually goes, he finds he’s the only one making this weird. Hiro has been “researching” him, and learned that he studies alone in the library an hour before school starts, and so decided to join him for a morning study session.

While Nagi is again initially hopeless, preoccupied with whether Hiro wants to steal her from her fiancé or is simply friendzoning him, eventually the two find common ground in their shared love of collecting shrine stamps. Sure, she has over four times more stamps, but he has a couple of rare ones she doesn’t. Oh, and she arrived at school earlier than him. Looks like Nagi’s in for a high school life of cozy study sessions and competing with the girl he likes in all things…

Then things go all Cuckoo and Erika not only transfers to Nagi’s school, but end sup in his and Hiro’s class. No doubt that was not an accident on the part of Erika’s parents. Turns out she was expelled from her fancy girls school when she accidentally posted the picture of them looking like a natural couple. Since such relationships are forbidden, she got the heave-ho. Nagi can’t fathom why her friends would be such “sticklers for the rules”, and Erika quietly muttered that they weren’t friends.

Erika doesn’t let that linger, and Nagi doesn’t press, but he remembers those words when he sees hordes of people surrounding Erika (though keeping a semi-respectful distance), and Erika looking thoroughly uncomfortable and lonely. Erika told him that their engagement has to remain a secret from everyone at school, so Nagi hesitates to approach her. That’s when Class Rep Segawa Hiro approaches her and breaks the ice.

Nagi isn’t surprised by Hiro’s kindness—it’s a big part why he likes her so much—while the other classmates go absolutely apeshit over sharing the air of two higher forms of life. Honestly, you’d think especially a prestigious school like this would have rules and such in place against this kind of behavior which too often feels like harassment rather than the harmless admiration the episode makes it out to be. And Nagi takes part in it!…though not for the same reasons as everyone else.

As soon as Erika and Hiro started hitting it off, Nagi imagined a metaphorical guillotine blade hanging over his head should Erika find out he confessed to Hiro and Hiro find out he’s engaged to Erika. While he’s trying to find the right time to approach Erika, it ends up being a day of stalking instead. This is the first episode of Cuckoos where I just wasn’t a fan of Nagi whatsoever…he was too cartoonish with a side of creepy (the less said about the shot of Nagi and Erika unbuttoning their shirts the better).

Nagi finally breaks the stalemate when he witnesses Hiro suddenly crouch to the ground and start sobbing. He rushes out of his hiding spot to tell Hiro that whatever Erika said or did, she didn’t mean it, she’s just nervous and is actually a good person. But Erika didn’t say anything; Hiro’s tears are of joy, because she just might be Erika’s biggest fangirl.

She just couldn’t hold it in anymore, ya know? And while I’m sure Erika is flattered, my heart sunk a little now knowing Hiro isn’t above the drooling masses wigging out over their new classmate being a big deal online. I laughed at Hiro’s threatening face after Erika tells her that Nagi is “another one of her fans”, but the flimsiness of that lie will certainly present a problem down the road.

What I did like was Erika being genuinely touched by Nagi came to her defense and called her a good person (which she is), even if he misunderstood what was happening. She blushes and tells him she’s “not half bad”, definitely a compliment coming from his reluctant fiancée. I also liked learning that Erika takes after her biological mom’s athleticism. Neither she nor Hiro are just pretty faces.

The idea of the three having morning study sessions should prove a font of comedy and drama. But between Nagi’s aggressive stalking the school losing their mind over a minor celebrity, and how Erika often comes off as traumatized because of it, this outing had its share of blemishes. Fortunately, that’s far more forgivable for a two-cour show—we’ve got a long way to go.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 04 – Sister Act

Within the two weeks he and Erika are living together, Nagi apparently is able to study enough to ace the exams and conquer the legend that is Segawa Hiro. Both the nerds and normies salute him following through on his boasts. When Hiro again invites him to the rooftop, he should have known beating her at one exam wasn’t going to cut it as far as winning her over.

As far as she’s concerned, she’s still beating him in exams, 10-1, so his confession “will not be processed”. When she declares all the other ways she surpasses him when it comes to both studies and life, the two end up chasing each other around the school and messing up a classroom and panting on the ground. Hiro had fun, but she makes it clear there’s no way she and Nagi can go out. You see, she’s engaged too!

He has had so much fun, in fact, he’s surprised to learn that his time playing Erika has already come to an end. He says he appreciated having a place to “let off steam” and how it was fun overall; Erika said it was the worst, but he can probably tell she’s not being entirely sincere. But once he packs up his stuff and bows to the house, suddenly it’s all over, and they go their separate ways…

…Except Nagi returns home to find it dark and locked; turns out his family is temporarily staying at an inn while the plumbing is fixed. There’s no room for him at said inn, so it’s back to his birth father’s house…where Erika is still making herself at home. Turns out she wanted to have a go at living on her own without help. Nagi is surprised she wants to improve herself, and vows to help her become a “professionally independent person” like him.

When Sachi comes by to drop off some of Nagi’s stuff, she finally gets to meet her biological big sister, something both she and Erika are understandably nervous about. Despite Nagi saying how friendly Sachi is and how easily she warms up to people, their first encounter is extremely stif and awkward. Sachi later confides in Nagi that she’d looked up Erika on IG before, and finding out she’s even cuter in person threw her off.

Nagi commences “Operation Sister Besties” by getting the two to cook some karaage together. While Erika is a nightmare chopping cabbage, she gets to see Nagi and Sachi interact like a real brother and sister that they are, while Nagi gets to see Sachi and Erika very much acting similar…they even eat the same way. When he points this out, they protest his assertion…by heaping praise on one another.

Erika decides to interrupt dinner by having Sachi try on some of her clothes. With Nagi not around, Erika makes clear she has no intention of marrying Sachi’s brother, something that seems like a load of Sachi’s mind. They also exchange contact info. Back home, Sachi’s folks are irked that she went and hung out with Erika. This is rich for people who went behind both Nagi and Erika’s backs to set them up to be married!

Whatever Hiro’s deal is with her engagement, it seems like a hard stop in Nagi’s quest to win her heart. Nagi and Erika are living together again, this time indefinitely. Sachi has finally met her sister and Nagi’s fiancée and can’t help but like her, but how long these good vibes last is anyone’s guess. I’m surprised how much has happened just four episodes into a twenty-four episode series. Things have moved very swiftly, but there’s clearly a lot more in store for our cuckoos.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 03 – Too Close to the Sun on Wings of Okonomiyaki

Just like that, Erika and Nagi are living alone together under the same roof. A text from Nagi’s mom and birth dad seals their fate: they’re stuck here for two weeks. They also both acknowledge that if they don’t go on defense, they’re going to end up married before they know it. So before heading to their separate rooms, they agree not to interact with each other in any way for  the duration of their stay.

AS. FRIKKIN’. IF. Moments after waking up later than he ever has (a product of not being slapped awake by his mom or Sachi) he hears a scream and comes to Erika’s rescue, only to get even more freaked out by the gecko in the bath than she is. A scenario like this begs for a bathroom walk-in, and while switching the roles would have been more refreshing, the execution get is both funny and tasteful.

Their pact last night has Nagi excited for a weekend of uninterrupted studying in his room, but he is betrayed by the nature of his arrival here: he doesn’t have his charger or textbooks. When they’re delivered, Erika takes delivery, and won’t give them up unless Nagi helps her with her Insta photo shoot of the day. This, in turn, leads to him tripping and falling into another romantic pose on her bed that’s caught on camera.

Erika doesn’t know what it is, but her pics just come out better when Nagi takes them, so she borrows him for the rest of the day, which leads to a water fight. While Nagi just wants to study, and Erika just wants to go viral, those more cynical motivations get pushed to the background as the two simply have a fun day in each other’s company. They’re in violation of their pact, but neither of them does anything about it.

Instead, Erika finds herself wanting to know more about Nagi, like why he loves studying so much. It’s a fair question from someone who is already financially set for life, and Nagi’s answer, while only a half-truth, about wanting to provide for his family of modest means gets through to her.

Erika’s reason for wanting to be popular on SM goes beyond “just ’cause” and into her desire to connect with “someone” out there—whether this someone is literal or figurative remains to be seen.

As for the other, and arguable more immediately important half of Nagi’s motivation, the challenge he issued to Segawa Hiro the other day has circled the school several times and he receives the expected extra attention and ribbing.

I like how Nagi’s a tough kid and doesn’t let any of this get him down, and even mistakes three guy’s genuine desire for him to win for teasing (if only because they’re betting on him…26-to-1 odds!). He gets it from the normies and the nerds, one of whom declares him Icarus and Hiro the sun. Nagi’s response to this guy is perfect: “Who the hell was that?”

Nagi gets a rooftop invite from Hiro that he’s sure is a prank, but when he learns that he, not her, is currently the top-ranked student prior to the upcoming waves of exams, he realizes it’s genuine. Sure enough, Hiro meets him on the rooftop, but not to confess her love to him, but to declare to him that she won’t lose to him…not in exams, class ranking, sports, cleaning and eating speed…she won’t give up a millimeter of ground anything.

This is a side of Hiro Nagi has never seen, and it only endears her to him more, and now both of them are each other’s prime motivating factors for pursuing greatness. We’ll see if one’s bitter rival really makes for a better match than a fiancée raised by your birth parents. I also imagine Hiro will cross Erika’s path eventually, and the two will have some thoughts about things.

But first things first: Nagi really does need to study. Unfortunately, not only did hanging out with Erika cost him the weekend, but the water fight gives him a cold. Erika dresses up like a nurse to take care of him, but he tries to power through, and ends up passing out. Erika, in turn, cancels her plans for the day to tend to him, and when he comes to, admits she’s duly impressed by how hard he works to achieve his goals.

This doesn’t just affect Nagi because a cutey is saying it, but because literally no one has ever said they’re impressed with his academic work ethic. His birth parents might’ve had they raised him, so it’s apropos that Erika, who was raised by them, is the first to do so.

It’s the kind of unforced gesture that should sow doubt in Nagi’s mind that he should choose Hiro (who let’s not forget could well reject him anyway) over Erika. Unless he and Hiro hang out more, that soil of doubt will only grow more fertile as he and Erika continue to interact and learn about each other. Those parents might’ve been on to something.

Three episodes in, A Couple of Cuckoos is a solid textbook rom-com that succeeds in making all parties (save Sachi) dynamic and likeable—not just cogs—while finding ways to ground the chaotic premise. This is not the car wreck in slow motion I thought it’d be. It’s just a good, fun, and engaging show, full-stop.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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