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!

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Re-Kan! – 07

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Hibiki’s ridiculous generosity and utter inability to say no to a ghost is taking its toll and  burning her out, so her friends stage an intervention on the streets, insisting she needs a break from her supernatural drudgery. They head over to her house, which while not a Gothic haunted mansion, could certainly pass for that house in Kwaidan with a few minor tweaks.

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Hibiki’s dad concurs, and produces a pair of sixth-sense-sealing glasses her mother used to wear when she needed a break from ghosts to, ya know, eat or sleep. I like how this story subverts the standard anime glasses girl trope. Sure, they make her look even more adorable (and more bookish), but they also fundamentally change how she interacts with the world. Simply put: all contact with that which most people cannot see or hear ceases. It really is like a vacation.

But the urge to take them off and sense of who’s floating around her—and more importantly, the urge help them—is strong. So Inoue makes a very childish threat: if she takes off the glasses, they won’t be friends any more, and it works; Hibiki keeps those puppies on like her life depends on it.

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Her sidekicks Roll Call Samurai and Kogal don’t like it, but they’re big enough to realize Hibiki could use a break. But when the little sister of a boy Hibiki is playing with goes missing and it starts to get dark, Hibiki desperately needs more sets of eyes to search for her.

Hibiki makes a very difficult phone call to Inoue, who is studying and absolutely scared shitless by Hibiki’s foreboding ringtone. Hibiki seems ready to accept the end of their friendship, but Inoue assures her not to worry. If it’s an emergency, it’s fine to take the glasses off. Hibiki does, and show us yet again how handy it is to have an army of the dead at one’s disposal.

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The balance of the episode is a New Year’s shrine visit by the whole gang. While I miss Glasses Hibiki, I loved how she lets spirits vote on what she wears, and the fact Inoue got drunk and loose-lipped on Amazake, and her friends decided to get her to open up.

To their disappointment, her response to almost every question is “Nana!”, so ingrained is her love for her late gran. Hibiki, not wanting to do anything untoward, simply asks Inoue if she’ll be friends with her in the next year, for which Inoue offers a more sober tsundere response of “I suppose.”

We finish things off with a fun little brawl between the incorrigible Ero-Neko versus Samurai and the Killer, who are sick of the cat’s sexual harrassment, as Kogal watches with enthusiasm.

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P.S. Like Hannah with Food Wars, I’ve taken over Re-Kan reviews from Zane in order to even out our workloads. -Preston

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 06

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An ongoing theme in Tomoya and Utaha’s friendship has been mutual inspiration. In their first encounter (they’re classmates, but hadn’t interacted before) Tomoya expresses how much Utaha’s work inspires him the moment he steps up to her table at her book signing. His remarks leave an instant and lasting impression. Fast forward to that “fateful” snowy day when Tomoya declines to read her latest manuscript.

Utaha, you see, never come out and told Tomoya inspires her as he did with her. Offering him the manuscript is her way of showing it. But he rejects that approach, and even though it’s for perfectly understandable reasons—he’s a fan, and doesn’t want to influence her creative process any more than he wants a sneak peak at an unfinished work—it still feels to Utaha that he’s rejecting her, which wounds her deeply.

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Utaha had never quite forgiven him for that…until this week, which is another showcase of Saekano’s knack for placing its characters in relatively confined, intimate places. Even Tomoya’s date with Kato at the mall felt like it, since the crush of people made them have to stick that much closer together, and the mutual fun they were having made that crush blur and fade into the background, until it was just them.

The confined space here is more concrete: a hotel room, where Utaha was going to spend the night, but invites Tomoya in when he drenches himself in the rain in the act of what she deemed as chasing after her. It’s an assertion he can’t and won’t deny, though he wasn’t expecting to end up on a bed with Utaha, both of them in bathrobes and nothing underneath. The optics are a constant source of nervous titillation, but I frankly like how it puts the two on the spot.

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Bathrobes concealing nakedness and nervous joking aside, Tomoya cut his date with Kato short because he now knows what doesn’t sit right with him about her first scenario draft. He didn’t like how they left things in the club room, but at the same time, were it not for his date with Kato, he wouldn’t have been able to express his reservations anyway, which ironically reflect the positions Kato and Utaha occupy with regards to Tomoya’s life.

Utaha’s plot is much like her plot with Tomoya thus far: seemingly bound by fate, or from a past life; something sprawling and dramatic and epic, like spending the night in a hotel room (but this is all-ages, so…) And Tomoya likes that, but he’s found he also likes what Kato brings to the table: a steadfast decency wrapped in utter normality; the beauty of the mundane; the way a flat character can draw a reader when suddenly big suddenly happens. Kato isn’t bland; she’s universally relatable.

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God, the timing, framing, and sound effects of this little sequence were so deliciously awesome. Utaha types away in this new direction, but she’s clearly upset by it; it’s as if the romantic ideal she represents has been suddenly usurped by Kato. Reality and the fiction being discussed and created is inextricably linked in this show. But she and Tomoya do work all night, and the fact that she was able to summon this much passion and belt out something both of them can be proud of is a testament to the mutual inspiration I mentioned earlier.

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When Utaha gets dressed and prepares to set out for her busy day, she doesn’t hesitate to make a joke about post-evening afterglow, not to mention the fact she wickedly took a picture of her in bed with Tomoya while he was asleep and made it his background.

But while there wasn’t any of that kind of action last night, it was still a night Utaha will cherish, because it showed her, just as it showed us, that Tomoya is not only her muse, but has the makings of a great creator in his own right. She leaves that hotel room feeling a lot better about the two of them, but not just because of the progress they made with the plot, but in the battle for Tomoya himself.

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Rewinding to yesterday, Eriri “bumps into” Kato at the mall and sketches her, which is clearly her way of commiserating over the fact that Utaha is off somewhere with her Tomoya. Misery loves company, so it gives her great solace to see that when properly stimulated, she’s able to pull back Kato’s stoic mask just that little bit. Like Utaha’s “coup” this week, this not only makes Eriri optimistic about developing a good heroine from Kato, but also that she’s still in the running for Tomoya. Kato is adorable, but she’s not invincible.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 05

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Tomoya’s promising dating sim circle is in place and hard at work, but progress is slow. Eriri is frustrated by Kato’s noncommittal expressions (noting that if she was expressionless, they could pass her off as an Ayanami Rei-type), while the only things Utaha types are orders for Tomoya to feed her Pocky sticks.

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What ironically (but also very fittingly) gets things going are Tomoya’s off-the-cuff prods to Eriri regarding what she’d do in a “hypothetical” situation where she’d be on a shopping date. Eriri offers advice—very good advice—and when Tomoya says it sounds boring, it’s because she offered advice for an “away game”, that is, an otaku on a date in the normal world.

When Tomoya inadvertently lets on that the date in question isn’t really hypothetical after all, it’s a creative spark for Utaha, borne out of her intolerance of any such non-hypothetical date not involving her. She begins to fill the white space with words.

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But even as Utaha found inspiration in an unexpected place, Eriri notes how difficult a subject Kato is; perhaps her toughest yet. But it’s precisely because she is a challenge that Eriri won’t give up, especially when it’s looking more and more like her beloved Tomoya is taking a liking to this Kato girl.

In a quiet but extremely sweet scene on the rooftop at night, Kato shows that despite the seeming noncommittalness in her words or expressions, she’s as serious as the other two, and practicing to be the best heroine she can be.

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Tomoya betrays something else when Utaha arrives at school with a thick scenario drawn up, the product of an all-nighter for the sake of the circle. When Utaha falls asleep as soon as her head hits the desk, Tomoya gives her a lingering look of pride and affection the other two girls pick up on: Eriri is suspicious, while Kato is bemused.

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The scenario itself is full of exciting twists, turns, and tropes, and it’s presented exquisitely in a slideshow-and-commentary format. I especially liked when Tomoya would periodically call for Kato to pipe up and say the heroine’s lines, which actually don’t sound half-bad even in her dry-run deadpan.

Also note that the handsomest guy Eriri could think of closely resembles Tomoya, but isn’t quite him, while Kato is Kato even in the scenario, because she is the heroine. It’s as if Utaha and Eriri applied their respective crafts to the basic template that was Kato Megumi to create “Kano Meguri”, through which Kato still manages to shine.

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And yet…while he can’t explain why, Tomoya’s not quite satisfied with the draft, to Eriri and Utaha’s consternation. (Eriri: “Subjective, feelings-based criticism like that doesn’t get us anywhere!” That should be RABUJOI’s slogan!) Utaha’s is deeper, seeing this as another case of indecision and inability to give her a straight answer.

On that note, the show helpfully flashes back to a moment still fresh in Utaha and Tomoya’s memory. If what I think happened happened, “no straight answer” is as good (or bad) as “rejection.” But Utaha seems to be hovering around Tomoya to this day, waiting for a straight answer anyway.

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Tomoya actually seems to become rather down by Utaha making that indecision connection to their past, to the point Kato tells him it’s okay if they postpone their date to the mall, but Tomoya isn’t having it; the date is on, and it’s yet another case of Kato really shining once out of the shadow of the other girls.

The huge, unruly crowds of “normals” throw Tomoya off, especially the proportion of couples (even though like it or not, he and Kato are one of them). In a brilliant turnaround, he decides to treat the shopping trip like a visit to Comiket: he plots the most efficient route to Kato’s stores, avoiding the longer-wait ones until things die down. When the crush of people grows thicker, Tomoya keeps Kato from falling and takes her hand without a second thought.

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While his otaku approach is hardly “normal”, it’s actually a boon to the otherwise normal date. Kato is duly impressed with Tomoya’s ingenuity, and decides to buy him a pair of glasses she thinks he looks good in (she thinks). 

Here, with her tender and very girlfriend-like gestures, all pretense of any kind of “practical experiment for research” falls away. This was a date, plain and simple, and a damn good one. Both parties had far more fun than they’d bargained for, and neither had to be anything other than themselves.

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Somewhat distressingly, the episode doesn’t end there, but pulls the plug on the good vibes when Tomoya laments he must ditch Kato without seeing her home, saying “there’s something he has to do” as we see Utaha waiting along, presumably for him. But whatever could he be leaving Kato for Utaha mean here? I think it’s a matter of obligation. It comes back to him not having an answer for her again.

Even in the midst of his lovely date (which he may or may not have gone into as an empirical and dispassionate exercise but definitely ended up falling for Kato’s charms once again…and who the hell wouldn’t?) perhaps Tomoya found an answer. Not to the past question Utaha asked, but to her scenario proposal. He owes her at least that much for her hard work.

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Blood-C 1 – First Impressions

I have never watched any of the Blood franchise before this new series by CLAMP and Production I.G., so I know nothing about it. But after watching a recently-released extra episode of Shiki (review pending), I was looking forward to another summer horror series to sink my teeth into. Little did I know that the horror came in the form of twin gingers who say everything at the same time!

No, I’m not talking about the Weasleys, and no, it wasn’t really any big deal. The twins in question are just classmates of the protagonist, a bespectacled girl named Saya Kisaragi. She’s kind, bubbly, easily distracted, a bit of a klutz, and not punctual. She sings to the beat of her footsteps, and is generally very upbeat. But she’s also extremely athletic and a shrine maiden. Her duty requires her to go out in the night and slay things; presumably evil things. It isn’t pretty, but she manages to get the job done. She leads a complicated life. I like ‘er!

I actually enjoyed the contrast between her sugary-sweet day life and the malice that lurks beneath – and that between the no-nonsense Slayer Saya and the full-of-nonsense School Saya. Obviously she can’t let others know about her duties; they might end up in danger, or at the very least think she has a screw loose. But I can’t help but expect her two worlds to come crashing together, and there will probably be some of that titular blood.

Her battle in a shallow lake with an “elder bairn” was really nicely orchestrated and was also built up very nicely, both by all the lightheartedness of the first half, and numerous long pauses of pregnant silence. These moments of unease come at perfect times. The stylized character design, with long legs and small heads, took a bit of getting used to, but its not nearly as strange as Shiki, which also grew on me gradually. Even though I’m a Blood newbie, this wasn’t hard to follow, and I’m looking forward to how it progresses. Rating: 3.5