Higehiro – 05 – The Mysterious Woman

I love the series that can replicate the same butterflies in the viewer’s stomach that the characters have in a particular scene, such as when Yoshida takes Gotou to his place to see Sayu. They stop at a konbini first, where Gotou prepares an extravagant bag of drinks and snacks to break the ice.

It’s not like there was going to be any melodramatic blow-up between Gotou and Sayu, but the episode is always cognizant of how strange this particular scenario is without going too over the top with it. It’s an episode titled “Reality”, after all, so Gotou and Sayu’s meeting unfolds realistically.

Gotou also has Sayu send Yoshida off on a shopping errand in short order so they can talk in private as two women. Gotou asks simple and direct questions—where Sayu is from, how long ago she ran away—but also knows not to press when she asks a question Sayu isn’t ready to answer (why she ran). Another important question Sayu tries to consider is how long she intends to stay with Yoshida.

Gotou makes clear that no matter how hard or respectable Sayu is, a high school girl cannot escape the high-school girl label, so it’s best to use it to her benefit rather than detriment. Sayu admits that in the process of running she was probably looking for someone to tell her not to run away.

Before Yoshida, the men she let use her body in exchange for a place to stay were only enabling her. “Something inside me just went crazy”, and she couldn’t deny that, at times,  when they wanted her it made her feel good. Then she met Yoshida, who not only didn’t do anything to her, but said he’d set her straight.

Gotou may not have Sayu’s sexual experience, but she’s still a woman who was a teenager and knows how hard it was and is. So shetells Sayu she’s glad she found somewhere safe, and because she knows and trusts Yoshida, she thinks it’s fine to let him be nice to her…as long as it’s the right way.

Sayu knows she shouldn’t run from her past forever, and resolves to face it, leave Yoshida’s, and “go back to where I was”. But Gotou, gathering Sayu into a supportive hug, makes clear she should take her time facing what she needs to face, while accepting the kindness she needs to accept.

It’s such a staggeringly lovely and understated scene of empathy and sisterhood, with superb voice performances from Ichinose Kana and Kanemoto Hisato, it makes what goes on with Yoshida in the meantime that much more disappointing. Because he happens to run into Yuzuha…who has been stalking him and Gotou all night. Yikes!

It’s the first time on this show I didn’t quite buy a character’s behavior. After inviting herself to go shopping with Yoshida, she makes a scene at the station as if Yoshida were two-timing her. While she initially accepted that Sayu was living with him, she deems it “weird” for him to let Gotou and Sayu in the same room on a night she thought he and Gotou were spending the night.

While Yoshida could have cleared up matters rather quickly by simply telling Yuzuha that Gotou wanted to meet Sayu, and that was the sum total reason she went to Yoshida’s place, the fact remains Yuzuha is reacting to a situation she knows far too little abhout to make judgments.

Especially when she questions Yoshida’s “priorities” and doubts whether he actually loves Gotou, she seems motivated by her own jealous rather than genuine concern for him or Sayu. She is right about one thing, however: Yoshida is far too nice…in not more forcefully telling her off!

Before Yoshida returns home, Gotou makes clear to Sayu that she loves Yoshida and isn’t interested in anyone else, while Sayu confirms that Yoshida loves Gotou. Sayu is frustrated by Gotou’s “mysterious woman” act but still offers her blessing. Then Gotou puts some makeup on Sayu, partly so Sayu can feel better after her little cry, and partly to mess with Yoshida when he comes home.

Yoshida walks Gotou home, and learns that she and Sayu have a “hotline” if he tries anything. But Gotou is impressed by Sayu, whom she regards a a great girl. Yes, she’s a little unstable and “doesn’t understand herself at all”—but she’s a teenager, what else is new?—but she thinks it will all work out. After all, Yoshida is known by the bosses at work as the “problem-solver.”

With Gotou making clear her true feelings for Yoshida, it’s lookig likelier than ever that neither Yuzuha nor Sayu have a chance, should the latter end up truly falling for him. As for the introduction of a young man who works at the konbini with Asami , I’m desperately hoping he doesn’t turn out to be one of the men Sayu stayed with.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Wonder Egg Priority – 10 – Fried

The cold open is so idyllic and beautiful that’s it’s obvious it’s only Momoe’s dream, but it’s an instructive one, for it shows us Momoe as she sees herself and as she wants to be seen: a lovely girl, going on a regular date with a boy who likes her as a girl.

Momoe wakes up to the sound of the end credits of what was likely a romantic movie she was watching before nodding off, the flowery soundtrack of which accompanied her lovely dream, and then gets ready for the real thing.

This week, under questioning the Accas come clean about not only being affiliated with Plati, but having founded the Japan chapter. Neiru shows Ai and Rika what they looked like before they abandoned their physical bodies and placed their minds in mannequins.

But in an inspired interruption of what was shaping up to be an exposition-heavy Q-and-A, something more important comes up: Momoe reports that went on a date…with a boy. Reminding us that the garden where the Accas are always seated at their board isn’t outside but underground, Ai, Neiru and Rika hurry head up to meet with Momoe and engage in some Girl Talk.

Describing the boy as her “follower” (presumably on social media), he asked her out a week ago, but when she arrived for their date in a dress, he was horrified…because he thought he was asking out a boy. That’s been the story of Momoe’s adolescent existence: a round peg being hammered into a square hole by a society that refuses to see and know her the way she sees and knows herself.

She tells her crocodile friend Panic, who is of unknown gender, that it must be nice not to be judged by appearance. Panic obviously doesn’t respond with words, but by curling up in Momoe’s arm like a dog, simply being there with Momoe. No judgment, no projection…only love.

Perhaps emboldened by Momoe’s courage in putting her true self out there, Ai pays a visit to Sawaki-sensei, who confirms that he’ll be leaving school soon to pursue his career as a professional artist. He gives her a postcard for his first solo exhibition, titled “Latent Heat”, and tells her that it was a portrait he painted at school that got him noticed. Ai, of course, assumes it was a portrait of Koito. She has a statue, Sawaki has a painting.

Momoe’s next Egg Girl, Kurita Kaoru, immediately establishes himself as unlike anyone she’s ever encountered, as he isn’t a girl, but a trans boy. Kaoru instantly sees through the “Momotaro” façade, and sees a tall, cool girl—totally his type. Unlike Haruka, Kaoru isn’t a girl who loves her. Unlike her recent date, he doesn’t misgender her, and she does him the same courtesy without thinking. He even wears a jacket of light blue, pink, and white.

Momoe is more popular with the girls, who see in her the perfect man. Kaoru’s kendo club advisor—whom he once trusted and sought advice from—saw and desired him as a girl. The advisor raped Kaoru, who then became pregnant. It was as if both he and the world were denying Kaoru his true self. He took his own life, unable to live in that world.

Having heard this story and met the advisor in his grotesque Wonder Killer form, Momoe is unspeakably enraged, and prepares to stab the shit out of him. The Killer shoves her back, declaring he’ll “kill any man who makes passes at his Kaoru,” whom he’s encased in a heart-shaped glass case.

He prepares to crush Momoe, but as she summons all of her strength to lift him off of her and toss him aside, she forcefully corrects him by saying “I’m a girl!”, ripping her boyish clothes to reveal her sports bra, then launching a decisive attack on the Wonder Killer, shattering the case and catching Kaoru out of the air.

In the few moments they have after the battle is over, Kaoru covers Momoe with his jacket, thanks her and says that next time he’s reborn he’ll be the one to protect her. Momoe is flattered, but points out that not all girls want to be protected; a fair point. Kaoru then calls Momoe a lovely girl and asks if she likes younger men. Kaoru then leans in to kiss her before vanishing in a puff of smoke, turning Momoe beet red.

Kaoru turns out to be the final egg Momoe needed to protect in order to “clear the game”, and after a countdown, a curtain falls to reveal Haruka, no longer a statue. When she runs towards Momoe’s open arms, she passes right through her and fades away. Momoe says “it’s really over!”, but above her a part of the ceiling lets out a slow drip-drip-drip of water, suggesting it might not quite be over.

The Accas report that Momoe “won’t be coming anymore”, as she’s more or less cleared the game. This news compels Ai to take her leave from Rika and Neiru in order to take care of something. She comes home, bathes, pins her hair back to reveal her blue eye, and wears a dress and heels, then takes the train to the gallery where Sawaki-sensei’s exhibition is being held.

She finds the painting that launched his fledgling art career…and it’s not Koito, it’s her, heterochromia and all. Only it isn’t exactly her, and as Sawaki approaches he asks her if it resembles someone else: her mother. That’s because it’s a portrait of Ai “grown up” into a “wonderful, adult woman” like her mother; “kind, strong, and beautiful.”

Because Ai is the daughter of that woman—the woman he admits he’s in love with—he says she should have more faith in herself. Then Ai asks Sawaki something she’s wanted to ask him since Koito died: Why did she die?

We don’t get the answer, and who knows if Sawaki will be forthcoming, elusive, or abstract in his response. We also don’t know if any potential answer will satisfy Ai—for all we know, Koito took her life after being rejected by Sawaki. All we know is, like Momoe’s attempt to go on a date with a boy as a girl, she’s all the more stronger for actually asking. And Sawaki is still creepy and inscrutable as fuck.

As for Momoe, her hard-won physical and moral triumphs are all too fleeting, as the dripping water precedes the arrival of a strange entity with Haruka’s body, a Wonder Killer-like head, and a giant scythe. The Accas lament that their plans to create “warriors of Eros” to confront “Thanatos” may end up going off-course with Momoe’s recent experience of “the overwhelming fear of death.”

The Haruka-bodied entity tells Momoe she’s like to let her go out of respect for how she risked her life for friendship, but that someone named “Frill” would get mad if she found out. Unfurling her head to reveal butterfly wings, the entity proceeds to gruesomely murder Panic right before Momoe’s eyes, then takes a chunk of meat from Panic’s body, eats it, and stuffs some in Momoe’s mouth.

Back in the real world, Momoe can’t dispatch the horror of tasting Panic’s meat out of her mind, and vomits into the sink during dinner with her mom. She cowers at the foot of her bed, trembling in a blanket, unable to sleep. As expected, the Accas only ever offered a bitterly sore deal, with victory only bringing more trauma and suffering.

Ao Haru Ride – 08

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“Today, no matter, what, I will definitely, definitely tell Yuuri properly!” As soon as Futaba said this, we were convinced she’d lose her nerve when it came down to it, a fear reinforced when two seconds later she says “I bet I’ll still lose my nerve when it comes down to it.” The odds of her telling Yuuri drop even more when Yuuri, unaware of the hammer Futaba’s trying to bring down on her, invites Shuuko to join them for ¥100 donuts.

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Prove me wrong, I said to the anime I like to think is based on one of Nozaki-kun’s shoujo manga: show me you can move forward and resolve this shit.” And what do you know, Ao Haru Ride answered the challenge. Even with Shuuko around and Yuuri going on about Kou, Futaba still gets it out; gets it all out, in the first five minutes of the episode. That was as welcome and refreshing as a cold shower on a searing summer day (though we’ve had precious few of those round these parts.)

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And wouldn’t you know it, Yuuri takes it extremely well…at first. Her immediate reactions involve saying “You too?”; noting how she’s not surprised, as Kou’s so totally hot and all; and acknowledging she’s at a disadvantage since Futaba’s closer to him. Then she goes to the bathroom and we get the first of two instances of characters crying for multiple reasons (Futaba’s the other, later on). One could say Yuuri is crying because her friend loves the same guy as her, which means she could potentially lose of them.

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But she’s also crying because Futaba obviously went through hell getting those words out, but she did. As Futaba thinks to herself earlier, this is the crux of her growth as a person: no longer “friends in name only” with anyone, she’s allowed to say what she wants, and in this case, needs to say. She wants to be honest, even if it could create conflict. Having friends you care about opens you up to hurting and being hurt, but the rewards are immeasurable.

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Witnessing a genuine exchange between two friends who love each other has a significant effect on Shuuko, who only tagged along because Yuuri asked her too and she had nothing else to do. What’s amazing about this first act is that this is the first time Shuuko is hanging out with people after school since she started high school. Far from fearing socializing is always this intense, she realizes what she’s been missing out on.

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It’s the perfect environment for her to get something off her own chest: that she’s in love with Tanaka-sensei. Futaba’s utter shock at this confession serves as proof Yuuri never spilled the beans, which comforts Shuuko further. When Aya passes by and happens to spot Shuuko hanging out with friends—and enjoying it—it puts a spring in his step and a tune to hum. He’s happy for her, as are we.

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One of Futaba’s best expressions yet: the “yeah I’m stalking you deal with it” look!

Yikes, I’ve only covered half the episode! That’s not to say the other half isn’t interesting, because it was, but it didn’t have quite the cathartic, warm-and-fuzzy power of the first. That could be because after running into Kou by chance, who is playing with the stray black cat, then says he won’t adopt it because “caring for things brings a lot of trouble” in the most obnoxious angsty way possible, Futaba decides to spend the rest of the night stalking him!

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This is why I like to think Nozaki-kun wrote this manga. He truly understands girls’ hearts, and in shoujo, if you like a guy and stalk him, he’ll eventually like you too! I kid, I kid…sort of. But really, if he doesn’t want Futaba following him he could be more forceful about it, but he’s very wishy-washy about it, and by the end puts on the air of a protector by lecturing her on the risk of being assaulted by going out in the night alone, culminating in the closest they’ve come to a kiss.

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Perhaps its because he was genuinely worried that Futaba would do that to try to get closer to him that he was cross with her. But at least Futaba isn’t just hiding in her head and actually trying to act on her feelings. As Shuuko so eloquently puts it, it’s ultimately up to Kou to decide between Futaba and Yuuri, or to reject them both. But if he has feelings for Futaba (and let’s face it, he does), then he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with toying with her much more.

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Stray Observations:

  • Komatsu Mikako is doing great understated work as Shuuko; her laugh sounds like the first laugh she’s laughed in years.
  • Come to think of it, Uchida Maaya is also showing she can handle non-chuunibyou dialogue with the best of ’em.
  • Aw, why not? Kudos to Kaji Yuki, while we’re at it. No one does sensitive/whiny angst like Yuki. This is Hope we’re talking about, after all.
  • Steelers? C’mon, animators. Surely you can think of a better team to slap on Kou’s t-shirt.