Bokutachi no Remake – 03 – Getting Fired Up

BnR isn’t wasting any time, jumping from the realization Team Kitagawa only has a still camera to work with, to screening day. It was also somewhat disappointing that we didn’t get to see a moment of Eiko’s teams short, only the overwhelming positive reaction to it.

You could say this show isn’t about Eiko’s team or their short, and having them go first added tension to Kyouya’s screening. But jumping straight to judgment day only to rewind back to explain how Kyouya pulled it off feels a little awkward.

That said, I’m happy I was correct in my prediction they’d go with a photomontage style, which was the most logical thing to do, but also that nobody on Kyoya’s team knew what he was going to do. And it worked—even Eiko is impressed!

That said, Kyoya’s team only gets third place, while Eiko wins. Yet Eiko is just as angry as they are, because she thought Kyoya’s short was the best! Alas, it’s not just about artistic attributes; this is a class, and the short was an assignment.

The professor—who is Eiko’s big sis—could tell that Kyouya’s team didn’t think their project through due to some kind of logistical difficulty with production. But she was nevertheless impressed with Kyouya’s problem-solving skills, such that she assigns Eiko to work with Kyouya’s team in the future.

Kyouya may have been simply trying to prove to himself that he could take a different path than the one he took before, but in the process, he inadvertently put his teammates/roommates on notice. Seeing what Kyouya could pull off without a video camera makes them that much more eager to step up their respective games.

In Nanako’s case, she wants to show off her acting chops in an actual moving picture … but she also wants Kyouya by her side while she tries to improve her singing. Even before Kyouya knows what’s really going on, he can tell Nanako has volume and charisma…it’s just she’s quite tone deaf! There are romantic undertones throughout the karaoke session and their walk home.

Not to be outdone by Kyouya or Nanako, Shinoaki reveals to Kyouya that she knows he knows about her night drawing in secret. She tells him that while she knows she’s good enough at it to win some awards, that’s not enough to make a living, and she has zero confidence about it, to the point she’s considering quitting art school altogether!

This is when Kyouya, who knows the Shinoaki of the future will be a famous artist who will bring joy and comfort to millions, including himself, takes Shinoaki by her slender shoulders and tells her she can’t give up…because he loves her…art. Adding the “art” at the end kinda dulls what would have otherwise been a confession, but hearing those words brightens Shinoaki’s entire world, and puts a twinkle in her eyes.

She wants to know what kind of guy thinks such nice things about her, and what his goals might be. Kyouya’s not ready to tell her yet, but like Nanako and Tsurayuki, he’s lit a fire in her belly that she’s determined to feed by continuing to improve her craft.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 09 – The Things She Carried

Like Sayu, I was dreading the day someone from her family finally found her and forced her to come home…but that isn’t what happens. It turns out Issa is just as decent and kind a person as Yoshida, and doesn’t jump to conclusions even when Yoshida and Sayu greet him at the door in their PJs.

Instead, he’s the latest in a long line of refreshingly reasonable, level-headed human beings that populate Higehiro and make it feel more real. He’s not simply doing their mother’s bidding; he wanted to be the one who found Sayu, because he loves her and is worried about her.

Issa is greatly relieved Sayu managed to find a good soul who took her in without asking for anything inappropriate, and takes both of them at their word when they say nothing’s happened. As a high-achieving corporate type, I imagine Issa trusts his instincts when it comes to reading people.

But that’s not all: Issa can also tell, even if Sayu can’t, that she’s taken some important steps forward as a person. He notes how she’s more able to speak her mind, as she explains why she needs a few more days to think about things. He’s proud and caring n a way only a big brother can be, and grants her one more week.

I have to say, I never imagined in a million years that Issa would be such a good guy, especially considering the uncomfortable way the series has handled the bastard who took her in for sex and ended up her co-worker. But it’s not the show’s fault I automatically expect the worst…it’s because men, and especially anime men, are so often just that…the worst.

Of course, women are the worst too, as we learn when Sayu invites Asami over and sits her and Yoshida down to finally tell them about everything that’s happened that led her to run away. In effect, she’s unloading all of the burdens she’s carried before two friends who are all too happy to help share that load. Her first step in getting ready to go back is telling the people important to her about where she came from.

Sayu and her mother never got along. Her mother put all of her hopes and aspirations into her firstborn son Issa, and never had a kind word for Sayu. Because she never received love, Sayu didn’t bother putting any effort into anything, be it academics or socializing. She was alone, emanated a “stay away” aura, and came to prefer it that way.

But along came another outcast in Yuuko, for whom Sayu’s repelling aura had the opposite effect. Yuuko always told Sayu she was pretty and cool—as pretty and cool as Yuuko claimed not to be—and the two became fast, close friends. But Sayu’s looks and unimpeachable “goodness” kept the other girls from bullying her directly when she turned down a guy one of them liked, so they started bullying Yuuko instead.

Yuuko always said Sayu looked best when she was smiling and happy. But as the bullying intensified and Sayu dug in her heels, determined to stand beside Yuuko and fight for her, she stopped smiling and laughing, and was always depressed, because she felt responsible for her friend’s suffering and felt powerless to stop it.

Yuuko, however, felt differently. When Sayu told her she’d support her and fight for her against the bullying, it hurt Yuuko more than anything, as she believed she was ruining Sayu’s happiness by deigning to become friends with her in the first place.

So one day, Sayu found Yuuko standing on the wrong side of the balcony, waiting for her. Yuuko told her what happened was her fault, but it would be better if she were no longer in her life. Before leaping to her death, Yuuko asked Sayu to keep smiling, obviously in no mental state to realize how hard that would be if she killed herself.

Witnessing her first and only friend commit suicide for her sake would have been plenty of trauma for any teenager or adult to bear, but that wassn’t the end of Sayu’s suffering. As the Ogiwara household became besieged with press and stories and rumors of the true cause of Yuuko’s death, her mother did all the exact wrong things, only exacerbating Sayu’s despair.

Rather than support her daughter and help her grief, she blamed her for their predicament, and even went so far as to ask, seriously, if Sayu really did kill Yuuko. That despicable question is the last straw for Sayu, and you really can’t blame her for not wanting to spend one more second inside that house with that despicable woman. Instead, it’s Issa who offers Sayu a shoulder to cry on as she prepares to run away on foot.

Demonstrating he was just as empathetic and kind back then as he is in the present, he actually helps his sister get the distance and time she needs, giving her $3000 for a decent hotel and food for two weeks, if she promises to call him if she ever gets into trouble. If there’s a right way to run away, this was it: acknowledging and respecting what Sayu needed, but building checks into the arrangement.

But even with those measures in place, Issa would still need Sayu to actualy call him if she got in trouble, and she never does that. As she burns through her cash, she continues to be crushed by isolation and self-loathing, with no one there to help pull her out of her downward spiral. Issa’s mistake wasn’t getting Sayu away from their mom, it was sending Sayu away all by herself when she was in no condition to be entirely alone.

The episode includes a scene we previously saw only a flash of, in which Sayu masturbates and looks down at her hand afterwards. As this happens before she first sleeps with a man, I’m not sure why such a graphic scene was included, except to underscore that there was really not much for Sayu to do during this time but sleep, eat, and pleasure herself, and none of it was helping.

When Issa calls Sayu to check on her, her battery dies, and she tosses her phone out, believing in that moment that his kindness was merely pity she didn’t want or deserve. She wanders the streets, bumps into a man, and when she explains her situation he offers her a place to stay. He eventually asks for sex in return, and Sayu gives in, though doesn’t even remember the name of her first. She then went from guy to guy, trading sex for shelter, until ending up on Yoshida’s doorstep. The rest, we know.

The first to speak after her tale of woe is Asami, who gives Sayu the affection she needs and tells her just how hard she hung in there all this time. Having gotten all of this out, Sayu breaks down, having a much-needed cathartic cry. Once she’s calmed down and in bed, Asami asks Yoshida on the balcony what he’s going to do about her.

Yoshida says it’s up to Sayu’s family to figure this out and it’s not his place to interfere. Asami points out that’s not what she asked, idiot, and again asks: what does he want to do? He may say he’s a stranger, but he’s not; he and Asami are as much family to Sayu as Issa, and certainly more than Sayu’s mom.

What they want matters too, especially if it aligns with what Sayu herself wants. But first those things must be said, just as the things Sayu carried needed to be said to fully understand where she’s been, and determine what she should do. It’s not just Sayu who needs to think about things in the week she has left.

Higehiro – 08 – Such Sticky Sweet Sorrow

In hindsight, it was already over for Sayu the moment Issa showed up at her workplace. A man of her brother’s means and drive surely wouldn’t rest until his little sister had been found. Even though Sayu knows this this, and understands this is probably It for her months-long excursion, she’s understandably shaken by the close call, and freezes up. Rather than take immediate action to soften the inevitable blow, Sayu retreats to her happy place: buying snacks for her and Yoshida, who will be at the office late.

But more to the point, Sayu once again places someone or something—in this case Yoshida’s work and her obligation to handle the chores—before herself, even though well within her rights to insist upon being the priority. Her brother finding her also affects Yoshida quite a bit, and in more ways than one—psychologically, legally, etc.—yet Sayu keeps quiet. She doesn’t bother Yoshida.

Thankfully, just as her brother and his employee are about to spot her, Sayu rings into Yuzuha, who, after hearing that Sayu doesnt want to be found, helps hide her. We learn she does this as much to help Sayu out as she does to take the temperature of Sayu and offer some unsolicited but very much needed advice; even some tough love.

In yet another example of how Sayu’s youth has not gone the way most kids her age have, Yuzuha learns Sayu can’t sing with her, because she doesn’t know any songs, because she never had any friends with whom to go to karaoke. Yuzuha surely sympathizes with Sayu, but she’s also more concerned with giving her a thorough reality check than sparing her feelings.

As such, she sits down next to Sayu and asks her, if her pursuers are already here, and she has so little time left, what is she doing shopping? I don’t think Yuzuha is right when she says Sayu “doesn’t get it”, but she is right that Sayu isn’t taking this as seriously as she should. Not just that people are looking for her, but that she and Yoshida seem to have become co-dependent.

One can argue as a practical matter whether Yuzuha the character has really spent enough time with the two of them to make that determination so confidently, but that doesn’t really matter to me, because as much or as little as Yuzuha is assuming, she’s absolutely correct that Yoshida and Sayu have become far too comfortable with their arrangement.

I gave Yuzuha grief in an earlier episode for essentially reading both Yoshida and Airi the riot act for the way they’re going about their lives, but while her little stalking incident is still a mark against her, I for one am glad Yuzuha is here as the voice of reason. Sure, she has a massive conflict of interest in being literally in love with Yoshida (which is its own can of worms), but Yuzuha is no kid.

At this point I trust her more than anyone else to see the forest for the trees. That’s why she can love Yoshida, see the way he looks at Sayu when he arrives, and stay behind in the karaoke room to cry her eyes out, while still being very much in the right about how tremendously unprepared either Yoshida or Sayu are for what isn’t coming down the pike—but has already freaking arrived!

The remainder of the episode sets to work painstakingly validating Yuzuha’s concerns. I can’t blame her taking a rain check considering her feelings for Yoshida, but it really would have been better if Yuzuha had joined them for dinner. At least then, she might’ve been able to steer Sayu towards telling Yoshida that she’s close to being found.

Instead, Sayu says nothing to Yoshida about her brother, choosing to ignore her fate. The two see a poster for the Summer Festival, and in one of the more awkward transitions of the show, the episode cuts from one night to the next night, with Sayu resplendent in her pink yukata,gold obi, and geta. 

Then they go on a date that would be adorable, except for the fact that it’s an indulgence neither of them can really afford at the moment. I can’t really blame Yoshida—he’s in the dark about Sayu’s brother and wants Sayu to have another “normal high school girl” experience.

At the same time, I can’t really blame Sayu for not suddenly turning to Yoshida and saying the jig is up. After all, she hasn’t been to a summer festival since she was a little girl, wasn’t allowed to eat cotton candy even once, and has never been as close to fireworks as she and Yoshida end up being.

The temptation to forget about her imminent doom for just one night proves too strong to resist, but like a yukata rental, the quickly-melting cotton candy, and the fleeting light from the fire fireworks, the trappings of normalcy in which she seeks refuge are all too temporary.

Their interactions throughout are charged with romantic tension. When he sheepishly compliments her yukata, she asks, just under her breath so he can’t quite hear, if it’s prettier than Gotou-san’s. She feeds him some of her cotton candy. When a kid bumps into her, of course Yoshida takes her hand to keep her from falling, and she decides they should keep holding hands throughout so they won’t get lost.

Yoshida knows that were it not for Sayu, he’d have never gone to the festival. Images of his past life without her flash by in his head; it’s a place he’s not ready to return to. When he exits those thoughts, Sayu is no longer holding his hand, and he calls out for her. She’s right behind him, and teases him for thinking she’d disappeared, but we cut to his five-o’clock shadow as he asks, also just under his breath, if she’s really going home.

Even after the fireworks are over, Sayu keeps looking up at the sky. She recalls how she gave all the other guys an alias, but when she met him, her real name just came out. The moment arrives that has arrived in so many romantic anime where there’s either a confession and/or kiss or a failed/thwarted attempt at either.

Instead of either, Yoshida wisely gives Sayu a nice, platonic head pat. Sayu looks disappointed, but quickly smiles. She knows, even if she wasn’t a teenager, Yoshida is sure would have taken her in…and just as sure they wouldn’t have had sex.

Of course, while she knows this, and Yuzuha and Airi and Asami know this, the person to which that very crucial distinction matters most does not know this, at least not yet. That means when Yoshida comes to the door in his pajamas and Sayu is standing behind her in hers, Issa has absolutely no way of knowing Yoshida wasn’t sleeping with his sister.

Even so, Ogiwara Issa’s entire character as we know him thus far is that he’s polite but determined to find her, and now he has. His brief smirk seems more out of relief to have succeeded than a reaction to just how screwed Yoshida is. But that smirk soon straightens into a more serious face as he announcesnot proposes—what’s going to happen. He’s taking Sayu home.

Yoshida may have something to say about that, and Issa may be open to hearing him out, but because this is there first interaction, depending on the level of assumptions Issa is willing to level against him, I can’t imagine anything Yoshida says will move him. I guess we’ll find out eventually, but with next week’s episode entitled “Past”, we may have to wait longer than we should.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 05 – Three Digits of Damage

We’re unfortunately not treated to Tomozaki’s movie date with Hinami, though we do get a glimpse of the all-important post-move café stop. Suffice it to say, there’s no movement on their matchup; things remain at a clinical master-pupil remove. Later that weekend they play TackFam together, where at least Tomozaki can still school her once in a while!

Tomozaki built confidence with his passionate defense of Nakamura and TackFam, and Izumi is now initiating chats with him in class, as is Nakamura’s friendlier mate Mizusawa, who suggests they go on a double date. Hinami, who’ll also go, leaves the second girl up to Tomozaki, and he chooses Izumi, wanting to build on the rapport they’ve developed thus far. The “in” he uses the group date is Nakamura’s birthday, which he learned from the flash cards.

While his invitation is rocky at first, he adjusts in “mid-battle” to brand Nakamura’s birthday as a good opportunity to make up with him. That suits Izumi, who is in. Later, Mizusawa calls out Tomozaki’s recent progress as him having read a “de-geekification book.” He’s not far off. Mizusawa also notes how chummy Tomozaki has been with Hinami, and thinks he’s “up to something” by then asking Izumi out.

Once Tomozaki navigates the initially intimidating TWINE app (quietly impressing his imouto), the shopping trip for Nakamura’s birthday is on. Hinami had imagined a much simpler bite to eat, and also seemed to object to Tomozaki inviting Izumi rather than someone else. In both cases, he upped the difficulty level of the event, and he only has himself to blame if it’s all too much.

His goal during the event is to make two successful suggestions related to the shopping trip. He actually does make one, as they head to the electronics store on his suggestion. It’s also his line of thinking that leads Izumi to purchasing styling wax, but that’s only an assist. To get a group to agree to your suggestions is to “control the mood”.

During the trip, Izumi draws close to Tomozaki and brings up the rumors about Hinami and Mizusawa—rumors that appear to be supported, but not proven, by how chummy they are together. Tomozaki doesn’t admit it to Hinami later, but learning of that rumor threw him off his game for the remainder of the trip…something Hinami does notice both during and afterwards.

When he asks Izumi for specifics about the rumors, he doesn’t get any—they’re just rumors. No doubt if he brought them up to Hinami, she’d deny them, and likely be justified in doing so, but who knows? We’re not any more privy to the rest of Hinami’s life as Tomozaki is. In any case, she keeps the focus on him in their sewing room briefing.

While it’s good that Tomozaki is starting to notice the improvement in his appearance (especially after the sample wax), he made a critical error in making no distinction between quality suggestions with persuasive suggestions. In reality, it can be hard to convince a group of a good suggestion, or easy to convince them of a bad one, and vice versa.

The only way to make headway in a group dynamic is to be ready to make suggestions that you know the group will accept. Misusawa did this organically, but Tomozaki will have to work at it to get it down. He briefly calls any game where crap suggestions can beat good ones due to social “trickery” to be “garbage” mechanics, but Hinami describes a theoretical “Negotiation Game” employing both effective speech skills and abundant info on one’s audience to unify interests and create consensus. In that context, Tomozaki sees it as a well-made game after all.

Mizusawa was impressed by his passion, but Tomozaki can’t achieve his goals by acting like Ace Attorney delivering a closing argument. Negotiation is key. And all this will imminently come into play as Hinami becomes a nominee for the student council. To her surprise, she’ll be opposed by Mimimi! Will this be the first instance of Tomozaki witnessing Hinami’s strategy falter? Either way, observing how Hinami fares should prove instructive.

P.S. I’ve never had shrimp on a pizza before, but the anime industry is apparently urging me to try it.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 04 – Standing Up to the Queen

Tomozaki just landed a lucky break. If there was no reason for Izumi Yuzu to approach him, he’d been making his presence known to the point that when he approached her, she felt she could come to him with her TackFam problem, which is really a Nakamura Shuuji problem. Bottom line: Izumi likes Shuuji, and wants to get good enough at the game to take him on. We also learn Shuuji recently turned down the Konno Erika, leader of the Neckties to which Yuzu belongs.

Yuzu invites Tomozaki to her place so he can teach her, and after one match he knows exactly what she needs to get better, starting with learning how to execute a short jump, which is simply a matter of practice and muscle memory. Yuzu is grateful for Tomozaki’s advice but wonders what the deal is with his various poses and gestures…turns out he’s mimicking Hinami’s teaching style without knowing it!

By the time Tomozaki is drawing detailed diagrams of all the moves Yuzu will have to memorize, she asks him: What is all the intense effort even for? He tells her what it’s not for: making friends or winning praise. When Yuzu claims she can’t ever change from her current status of superficially laughing with her necktie-wearing friends, he assures her he is proof that anyone can change; they just need to commit themselves and put in the effort.

While Hinami calls Tomozaki’s break with Yuzu pretty “miraculous” when they meet up for a debrief, she can’t deny he properly capitalized, using what he knows best (TackFam) to really connect with someone. That said, she still wants him to ask Fuuka out on a date, even producing movie tickets for them to use.

The night before, Tomozaki practices asking Fuuka out on the recorder Hinami gave her, showing how he’s learning how to listen to himself and adjust. But he also accidentally opens a folder of recordings Hinami didn’t delete: ones in which she too practices talking. He already considers it amazing she’s so good at the Game of Life; to hear the process firsthand is even more amazing.

Like him with TackFam, no matter how high a level you achieve, you can never stop practicing. But with practice comes the realization that sometimes circumstances won’t always accommodate your plans, nor will practice always inform what to do when it’s go time. To whit: Tomozaki calls an laudable audible: coming clean to Fuuka about having not read any of her favorite author, and thus not yet being ready to read her own novel.

This could have turned out disastrously, but the risk was well worth the reward of starting fresh from a position of honesty. A white lie or misunderstanding rarely forms a strong foundation for a relationship. While there’s clear and justifiable disappointment in Fuuka’s reaction, there’s also the sense she’s happy he’s being so honest. He’s also able to break the news naturally and casually enough not to come off as dismissive or cruel.

Working entirely outside the letter of Hinami’s plan while hewing to the spirit of her training, Tomozaki shows great growth here, while rejecting her “an in is an in” mentality. Yes, the author misunderstanding, got Fuuka talking to him, but so did simply asking Yuzu for a tissue.

He also wisely realizes that to ask her out on a date so soon after basically restarting their friendship from a place of honesty would be overdoing it, so he withholds the tickets for now. If he gets any flak from Hinami, he’ll be ready with a pretty good explanation. However, their next meeting is preempted by Shuuji’s two mates: he wants a TackFam rematch, now.

In the AV room, Tomozaki plays Shuuji while Shuuji’s mates, Yuzu, and Erika and her two Necktie acolytes watch. Tomozaki proceeds to beat Shuuji handily in match after match, but Shuuji keeps asking to play again. He grows more frustrated, even as he starts to improve slightly, to the point he’s able to take out one of Tomozaki’s health stocks.

That frustration creates an increasingly unpleasant tension and aura of desperation around Shuuji, to the point Erika begins to mock him as “weak”, his obsession with a “stupid game” as “creepy”, and that she dodged a bullet when he turned her down. The “stupid game” comment draws the ire of Tomozaki, as does her assertion that all of Shuuji’s hard work and practice amounts to nothing.

The old Tomozaki would have muttered something and not followed through, but this newly Hinami-trained Tomozaki is at least adept enough at the Game of Life to call Erika out for the haughty tourist she is. Shuuji may have been a dick to him all this time, but at least he’s committed to improving and keeps fighting no matter how much he loses. All Erika can do is mock someone else’s effort when she (at least as far as Tomozaki knows) puts in none at all.

Yuzu even has the courage to chime in and call Shuuji’s efforts “beautiful in a boyish way”, despite the fact doing so is contradicting the vaunted Queen of the Neckties. But I have no doubt it was Tomozaki’s earlier words about her ability to change that helped her summon the courage to speak up. Erika slinks away, pretending not to have learned anything, but she did. So did Shuuji, who probably resents Tomozaki defending him but also appreciated it.

Notable for her silence during all this is Hinami, which was no accident. The thing is, while she observed that Tomozaki had things well in hand, I also think she stayed above the fray in order to avoid needlessly upsetting the apple cart with Erika & Co., who would have likely felt ganged up on if she’d joined Tomozaki and Yuzu—an example of maintaining balance through inaction. Regardless, both Erika and Shuuji stop giving Tomozaki a hard time, now knowing better what he’s made of.

At their next meeting over lunch, Hinami asks how things are going with Fuuka, wondering if he’s lost motivation. He assures her he hasn’t, but without explaining the whole situation with coming clean and not wanting to pile on with a date request, Tomozaki pulls another laudable audible: whipping out the very tickets she gave him and asking Hinami if she’ll join him instead.

Hinami’s look of surprise is followed by the kind of proud face a master makes when their student has just done something good. Unfortunately, she’s not free tomorrow (what do you know, she does have other obligations!), but she is free for a movie now. Is it just me, or do these two just make a good couple, full stop?

It’s too early to tell, but I appreciate that Hinami doesn’t go all cliché blushy or tsundere at the prospect of Tomozaki asking her out. Maybe she gets that it’s for more “training”, or as thanks for her help so far. But at some point all these times they’re meeting up one-on-one and having fun will start painting the picture of two people…going out. We’ll see if anything comes of their consistently pleasant proximity, and more importantly, if more people start noticing them together all the damn time!

Crucially, this outing proved Tomozaki isn’t just some automaton carrying out Hinami’s directives, nor does she want him to be. She’s taught him the basics, and it’s up to him to experience how to properly use them and switch things up when warranted. The recording of Hinami also shows that her life game is an ongoing work in progress. I know it’s Tomozaki’s name in the title, but I would love to delve more into Hinami’s growth, and if Tomozaki has anything to teach her—something his recent shrewd freestyling might portend.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 03 – Character Creation, Phase 2

While a plethora of new characters were introduced last week, this episode keeps things simple by narrowing down the ones with whom Fumiya interacts to three: Aoi, Fuuka, and Yuzu. That not only keeps things from getting too scattered but is in keeping with Aoi’s desire to figure out who is best worth Fumiya’s time and effort.

Of course, first thing’s first: making him sufficiently presentable to converse with people. That means a trip to the mall for some new threads, a new haircut, and some lunch conversation practice. Fumiya has learned from the tapes that he has a tendency to mutter; Aoi tells him to use fewer words and rely more on gestures and tone to convey his emotions.

Quite by surprise, Fuuka is a waitress at the restaurant where they have lunch. Refreshingly, Fuuka doesn’t seem necessarily threatened by seeing them together, nor does she assume they’re on a date—she simply hadn’t pegged them as being friends material. Based on little details she noticed during their encounter, Aoi is convinced that Fuuka should be the “first heroine” Fumiya should pursue in his “playthrough.”

At their next meeting, Fumiya proudly reports that one of his small goals was achieved: his sister noticed he was putting more effort into his appearance. While Fumiya feels like he’s relying on “cheats” like dressing like the store mannquin or getting his hair done, Aoi insists that because he’s trusting in her and doing as she says, he deserves at least some of the credit for his success.

That said, Aoi isn’t going to start going easy on him. His next goal is to go somewhere alone with a girl who isn’t her. His related task for the week is to talk to Izumi Yuzu at least twice a day. Why Yuzu and not Fuuka? Because, as Aoi points out, real life isn’t a dating sim. Raising “affection levels” of one girl can raise them for all, along with increasing their innate possessiveness.

Fumiya is still weary that he’s not being “sincere”, but Aoi tells him it’s too early in his progress to worry about that. He’ll cross that bridge when he’s in a more serious relationship. For now, he needs “ins”, however he can get them. Things don’t go too smoothly with Yuzu at first; topics he chooses tend to lead to awkward conversational dead ends. But he keeps at it, and his quota for the week is eventually filled.

While in the library pretending to read a random book while coming up with TackFam strategies, Fumiya is approached by Fuuka, who notices the author he’s pretending to read is her favorite. Fumiya doesn’t correct her, and Fuuka ends up confessing something she’s never told anyone: she’s working on a novel, and would love it if he (and only he) read it sometime.

It’s a lovely little exchange because it’s the first of its kind fo Fuuka as well as Fumiya. Kayano Ai really sells Fuuka’s warmth and quiet enthusiasm, and Fuuka really does seem like a suitable person for Fumiya to pursue, and he has the perfect “in”.

As Aoi reiterates, it’s still too early to worry about “sincerity”; she can tell he’ll use it as an excuse to run away if she lets him. While he filled his quota in talking to Yuzu twice a day for a week, he may feel like he failed, like a battle he loses that results in KO and Game Over.

But unlike games of that kind, in the game of life you gain as much if not more XP by losing than by winning, so you’re better off keeping up the fight than starting over from scratch. That assertion really speaks to the gamer in Fumiya. The losses he tallied against Yuzu weren’t in vain; they got him to at least Level 3, and he can use what he learned from those failures to succeed with Fuuka.

But then life throws him for a loop when he spots Yuzu sitting alone and looking somewhat down. Remembering Aoi’s advice for him to mention something about her clothes or face, Fumiya tactlessly tells Yuzu she looks “gloomy”, but she doesn’t storm off. In fact, she just keeps looking gloomy, and even gets to the point that tears are welling in her eyes when she comes right out and asks him to teach her how to play TackFam.

I don’t believe this is the same kind of “in” as Fuuka’s secret novel reading—it’s possible Yuzu wants to learn to play so she can play with another boy she’s interested in, or maybe she just wants to learn TackFam, period. But the fact Fumiya reached out to her so much in the last week made him a viable person for Yuzu approach with such a request. So it could be an overture for a friendship. We shall see!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 02 – Boosting Social XP

With Fumiya’s goals laid out, it’s time to grind! Talking to three different girls is a steep task for someone who virtually never speaks to any, but Aoi has a detailed plan for  him. First, she’s already chosen to whom he should speak from her circle of friends—a measure of quality control. But she notably doesn’t hold his hand the whole way. He has to get out there and execute on his own.

An added wrinkle is the the fact girls at their school have a choice of wearing either a bow or necktie, and the custom of only the popular girls wearing the latter. Two of the girls he must speak to are with the “necktie team,” which feels like an added level of difficulty. But in his very first exchange with necktier Izumi Yuzu, simply asking her for a tissue, Fumiya does fine; he even interacts with a second girl in bow-tier Kikuchi Fuuka.

Fumiya hesitates in his next interaction during home ec, with the lively Nanami Minami (AKA Mimimi), because the plan said Aoi would be present to have his back, but this also seems like Aoi putting him on the deeper end of the pool to see what he’s got when faced with the unexpected. He ends up lauding Minami for her “empathy” when she says “I get that”, sounding like an old man and eliciting genuine, non-mocking laughter from her.

So far so good, but what happens when the social situation—or “battle”—is complicated by additional “combatants”? First, Natsubayashi Hanabi (AKA Tama) arrives, adding a completely different vibe to the conversation as Mimimi affectionately gloms onto her and tells her “Fumiya is funny!”

Before Mimimi or Fumiya can explain it to Tama so she doesn’t feel out of the loop, the three main “in-crowd” dudes arrive. They’re led by Nakamura Shuuji, whom we know to still be sore over his TackFam loss to Fumiya. Mimimi explains Fumiya’s “joke”, Shuuji dismisses it as no joke at all, and Mimimi puts it to a vote.

Fumiya notices that Tama doesn’t vote, so he also abstains so as not to keep her feeling left out. Finally, Aoi arrives and votes for Fumiya, giving both him and Tama the cover they needed to vote for him. She even uses the opportunity to bring up the fact Shuuji lost to Fumiya, and how his resultant sour attitude may be why he was dumped.

If all this sounds extremely complex, it’s because we’re watching all of the intricacy that lies behind seemingly mundane or effortless high school social interactions through Fumiya’s eyes: as a novice trying to familiarize himself with the game’s  mechanics and and pitfalls.

In their afterschool debriefing in the sewing room, Aoi explains how she wasted no time broached the topic of Shuuji’s TackFam loss as part of a larger effort to avoid Shuuji—who like her has considerable social clout—from being rude to Fumiya and hurting his progress (since it would give others permission to be rude).

Aoi believes that on balance, Fumiya’s first “field practice” was a huge success. He was a little shaky out there, but the conditions were met without cheating. She also has him rely on his own instincts by garnering comments form him. For instance, he noticed Tama seemed “a bit off”, which Aoi chalks up to Tama’s strong will and hesitance to “go along to get along”

Between the vote and debriefing, Fumiya witnesses the interactions between just the trio of Aoi, Mimimi and Tama, and learns why Hanabi is nicknamed Tama (b/c “hanabi” means fireworks, and you traditionally say “tamaya!” when they explode…pretty clever!) We also learn that Mimimi is not afraid of showing affection for her friends, whether it’s glomming on Tama or tickling Aoi’s navel.

Aoi “returns fire” by going in for a kiss—which seems to throw Mimimi off balance—only to gently blow on her lips. Both this incident and the fact Aoi being the only one in class with the “guts” to tease Shuuji further reinforce the reality that Aoi is an elite, “utterly terrifying” player of this game. Like Fumiya in TackFam, if you’re coming at Aoi IRL, you best come correct!

Now that Fumiya has familiarized himself with conversation somewhat, the next step is to get better at it by continuing to recognize the reactions of the girls he talks to, the shifts in mood those conversations take, and become comfortable with adjusting on the fly.

Being able to join in conversations with girls multiple times per day (no one-and-dones here) will also help him make progress towards his medium goal of getting a girlfriend. The more girls Fumiya converses with, the more reactions Aoi will have to gauge whom he should be talking to more. It’s like researching a boss before entering battle to ensure victory!

While becoming more agile in conversation through the accumulation of XP, Fumiya will simultaneously be practicing proper posture. A stronger posture will result in a stronger state of mind, just as confidence can be boosted by drawing on the positive reactions better posture will engender. Aoi clutches Fumiya’s buttock, but not as a flirtation. It’s merely a clinical check to ensure he’s using those muscles properly.

That afternoon, Aoi says she’ll be heading home with two of the three in guys (not Shuuji) and Mimimi, that he’ll be accompanying them, taking mental notes and honing his conversational skills. With Aoi with him this time, she’s able to support him with his “butt exercise” comment, which might’ve clanged to the floor without her seconding its efficacy.

Aoi then throws Fumiya a curveball mid-trip home: he and Mimimi are getting off early, since they live in the same area, so he’ll be interacting one-on-one with her, just like in home ec. Fortunately, Mimimi has no problem with his. On the contrary, she seems eager to help Fumiya come out of his shell even thought she’s unaware of his training, giving him an encouraging pat on the back.

Fumiya and Mimimi casually discuss his glumness and her liveliness, and when he asks if there’s ever times she’s not “all smiling and bubbly”, she says those times are when it’s most important to be that way. He then recalls what Aoi said about the body and mind being liked, and Mimimi can’t help but bring up the fact he and Aoi have been awfully buddy-buddy of late.

Fumiya sidesteps that by declaring Aoi out of his league, though that matter is far from closed. Mimimi maintains he should “let his fun side shine” more often, since he’s shown he’s actually pretty funny when he wants to be. Fumiya explains that fun isn’t the end-all-be-all for him; in TackFam, for instance, he plays because he loves it, and the fun is a bonus.

Mimimi also shows quite a bit of self-reflection when the subject turns to Tama, comparing her “won’t bend or be bent” nature to her “always be bending” attitude. It’s another great success for Fumiya, as he and Mimimi never had so much as an awkward silence while walking together.

As for determining who might be girlfriend material, that remains to be seen, but in their next debriefing Aoi has Fumiya acknowledge that his tendency to speak his mind regardless of the mood of the conversation makes him similar to Tama, who isn’t afraid to speak hers. Aoi believes that’s a strength in both, and Fumiya shouldn’t be afraid to use it.

Like the previous meeting, Aoi asks Fumiya to bring up anything else he learned, and he says he’s become aware that any productive conversation requires specific roles be filled, like different jobs in an RPG party: someone who introduces new topics (like Mimimi) and one who expands on existing ones (like Aoi).

Aoi is glad he’s picked up on this organically, and directs him to practice playing both roles. She expresses her joy with the phrase “HEXactly!”, which she finally explains was the catchphrase of a retro game she loved. She’s so delighted he’s heard of it she breaks out of teaching mode…but only momentarily!

To that end, Aoi has prepared flash cards of conversation topics for Fumiya to practice, and also recorded their meeting so he can listen to the sound of his voice. She also arranges their first Saturday meet-up. The fact she’s spending a day she’s free of club work on Fumiya means Aoi is determined to make her reclamation project a resounding success.

It’s great to see Fumiya not just making steady progress, but for the difficulty level not to be artificially heightened by, say, cartoonishly intractable personalities. At the end of the day these aren’t tough “bosses” Fumiya is being made to fight: Mimimi, Tama, Yuzu, and Fuuka are all nice people who aren’t hard to get along with, and all seem willing in one way or another to give him the benefit of the doubt despite his reputation.

At the same time, I’m thoroughly pleased Fumiya doesn’t need to be dragged kicking and screaming from his morose philosophy. While understandably a bit reticent at times, he’s neither resistant nor stubborn about submitting to Aoi’s prescribed plan. The best way he can show respect to her not inconsiderable efforts is by being a model trainee; a veritable sponge absorbing as much as he can, while not forgetting to have fun. So far, so good!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Blame the Game

“You cannot lose if you do not play.”—Marla Daniels, The Wire

“I’m not fucking crazy … I’m just goal-oriented.”—Annie Landsberg, Maniac

Our protagonist Tomozaki Fumiya (handle nanashi) is teen with a dearth of social skills and friends and seeks solace and contentment in the world of gaming. In the first of a veritable festival of metaphors this show dishes out, he’s a god-tier player of the popular fighting game Tackfam, but a bottom-tier player in the Game of Life. As such, even though he splashes the popular Nakamura Shuuji in Tackfam, it’s Shuuji who leaves school flanked by two pretty girls.

This leads Fumiya—who is not a refugee from a war-torn nation—to declare “The game of life is garbage”, followed immediately by an establishing shot of his family’s above average-sized detached home in a quiet neighborhood, thence to his spacious bedroom with hardwood floors, a Mr. Slim, and his own entertainment center.

I actually laughed out loud at this juxtaposition, even if it wasn’t quite the show’s intention. Then I couldn’t help but think: This guy is a whiny loser and I don’t like him. But hey, that’s the point: I’m not supposed to! In stories like this, something or someone becomes a catalyst for positive change.

In this case, it’s a someone—a fellow gamer (handle NO NAME) who is second only to Fumiya in the Tackfam national rankings. Fumiya respects NO NAME a great deal, and when he plays him he can tell how much effort and dedication he puts into training. When NO NAME suggests they meet up IRL, Fumiya doesn’t hesitate.

Little does Fumiya know that not only is NO NAME not a guy, but she’s someone he already interacted with at school prior to their meet-up, as she extended him some obligatory class-rep friendliness upon learning he and Shuuji played. NO NAME is Hinami Aoi, the “it” girl at his school: top grades, top athletes, loved by all. He considers Aoi a god-tier player of the game of life, like Shuuji.

Thankfully, Aoi’s reaction to Fumiya being nanashi is spot-on: “This sucks,” she declares, quickly losing her interest in further interaction. Her reason is plain: just as Fumiya is in awe of her as a player of life, she was in awe of nanashi as a player of Tackfam. To learn the real nanashi is a “rock-bottom loser” who has “given up on life” is deflating, and in turn reflects poorly on her, since she pegged nanashi to be a better person IRL.

Voiced by the wonderful Kanemoto Hisako, in with a feminine strictness that had me wondering if Aoi was really Nakiri Erina with dyed hair and contacts, Aoi brings legitimacy to “polite rudeness”—a term I may have just made up—in her takedown of Fumiya. She also has just the right response when Fumiya protests that the game of life is unbalanced, and her “high initial stats” imbue her and those like her with baseless confidence.

What’s so satisfying about her response, and can be tied to the tightness and cleverness of the dialogue throughout the episode, is that she repeats to Fumiya the very same words Fumiya said to Shuuji when he called Tackfam trash: There’s nothing more shameful than blaming the game, especially when you’d barely played. Fumiya goes on to argue that you can’t change characters IRL…and that’s when Aoi takes his hand, and before he knows it, he’s sitting in her bedroom.

It’s at this point in the ep when I began to develop a measure of concern about the emergence of a somewhat unpleasant subtext: Aoi seemed to be going extremely out of her way to be this dude’s archetypal “guardian angel”. After all, what does she get out of helping him? You can say she’s simply being every bit the “good person” and “perfect heroine” Fumiya saw her as to this point: helping those in need help themselves.

But there’s more to it than that, which justifies the extent of her effort vis-a-vis Fumiya, which we learn when she invites him to her room…her very similarly-sized and appointed room:

They’re practically mirror images of each other! Whether this was intentional or the creator/producers simply drew up some normal high school kid rooms, I appreciated the symbolism. There’s common ground between Aoi and Fumiya: their passion for the games at which they excel. Aoi happens to be good at both Tackfam and life, but she shows Fumiya the latter success isn’t due to high base stats.

She does this simply by being who she is—someone Fumiya didn’t know—by appearing before him in cozier clothes and without makeup. She assures him he can attain normie-level looks just fine by practicing better expressions and proper posture. When Aoi watched Fumiya play as nanashi, she saw the same serious effort she applied IRL—in fact, she thought him more capable of effort than she!

So yeah, from where Aoi stands and how hard she’s worked, Fumiya doesn’t get to say the game of life is unbalanced garbage. He just needs to start applying the same effort of which he’s already proven more than capable in Tackfam. She’ll prove he can—and validate her ideals—by helping him out. Fumiya is initially dubious because he assumes Aoi ranks life higher than Tackfam, but when she reveals her belief that life is tied for first with Tackfam, he’s moved.

He’s moved because while he’s always gotten online recognition for his online efforts, those same efforts have netted him precisely zero friends and recognition…until he met NO NAME/Aoi, who bridged the divide between games. In Aoi he finally has someone IRL who recognizes and moreover values his efforts.

As flawed as Fumiya is, he still recognizes his own hypocrisy and has a sense of honor, and is thus motivated to put more effort into “playing” life as Aoi suggests, so he can find out for himself if the game is actually good. This, along with Aoi using the Fumiya Reclamation Project as a means of continuing to grow herself, goes a long way towards making their budding relationship both balanced and compelling.

As for what form Fumiya’s training will take, well here’s where we must suspend disbelief in Aoi having a half-hour to spare in her clearly packed academic, athletic, and social schedule. They meet at the school’s deserted sewing room (where I thought for a moment she’d teach him how to make better clothes, LOL) and Aoi lays out an aggressive plan composed of large, medium, and small goals. The primary goal is “to be as satisfied with offline life” as she is.

Fumiya can see by the structure of the plan that it’s not all that different from how he trains for Tackfam, a realization Aoi was both counting on and appreciates as it will save some explanation time. She’s already given him a facemask behind which he must constantly smile behind in order to improve his expression (this leads to an awkward scene with his imouto, who asks him not to be more creepy than he already is).

But like Nakiri Erina, Aoi has no intention of going easy on Fumiya offline, considering she knows the effort he’s capable of online. He must acquire a girlfriend before starting his third year. Before that, he must get a third party to notice his appearance/vibe has improved, which has already started with the smiling training, but also means he must actually talk to at least three girls at school.

That’s no mean feat for a bottom-tier character in a game he’s barely played to this point, but part of improving one’s character involves occasional stumbling and getting ones ass kicked (figuratively, of course). I notice there are four girls in the middle ground of the promo art, so I imagine Fumiya will start with one of them. So begins a long, fraught, but hopefully rewarding journey towards not thinking life is a garbage game. And as you can tell by how many damn words I’ve written about it, I’m game!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 02 – Kijima Wants to Study

“I have no time to concern myself with sexual desires,” Ao thinks to herself, but her curiosity about those desires, along with her ill-fated attempts to suppress them, only puts them even more at the forefront. Matters aren’t helped by class chatter about Kijima being big…down there, to the point where it’s not comfortable for a woman.

Ao goes to the vaunted authority on such things, her dad, who gives her the brass tacks about long shafts, so to speak. She’s understandably mortified about such a scenario, but decides to “confirm” whether Kijima is really that big before outright rejecting him. Considering how well her first knee-jerk rejection worked out, it’s unsurprising that her clumsy attempt to “touch” Kijima while he’s sleeping leads to her hands in his (and they are big hands).

He tells her didn’t confess on a whim, but because he wanted to give it his all and do things properly. And so far, he’s been nothing but a gentleman, despite Ao’s weird thoughts. He admits there’ll be times when he too will be uneasy about certain things if they go down that road, but that doesn’t make that road any less worth travelling.

Despite herself, Ao is touched (emotionally, dammit!), and returns to her dad for further advice. He understands how it must be tough to talk to him, but he wants to help, and so gives her a novel to read that also serves as a kind of “training manual.” Naturally the cover looks just like the cover of Kijima’s studying notes, and when the two come together in class the books get switched.

When Ao learns of the switch and reads Kijima’s apparent reactions to it, she gets extremely anxious, especially when he suggests they “do it” outside in the park, suggesting he’s into “public play.” Of course, Kijima hasn’t read the contents of Ao’s book, and so by “doing it” he’s only talking about studying together.

Bottom line, Ao’s belief that Kijima is some kind of crazed sexual animal is gradually eroding, and only her own dirty thoughts, obviously influenced by her illustrious father, only make things worse for her. This was a better episode than the first, but it’s still pretty inessential.

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 01 (First Impressions) – Please Value Yourself More!

In this half-length rom-com, Love isn’t War, but it is an unknown concept to Horie Ao. She hates men, whom she views as rabid demon animals who will fill any hole, and needs neither friends nor her youth. She just wants to study hard enough to go to a university far away from home.

Why is she so uptight about guys and desperate to escape her family? Her (tiny!) father is renowned as the “Pleasure Master,” famous author of erotic fiction, and her home is known as the “House of Lewd”. I kinda feel bad for anyone who has to serve her dad pudding shaped and colored like a boob.

Ao’s classmate male Kijima keeps approaching her to talk, and seems friendly, but she suspects he’s just like the others, a rabid animal hiding their true slobbering face. But when she resolves to tell him she hates him and wants him to stop talking to her, she finds out that things aren’t so simple.

This results in a ridiculous scenario in which she is asked to deliver his uniform to the nurse’s office, and her dad somehow teleports in and lifts up her shirt with a fishing pole, which is pretty dumb! And since Dad’s so small Kijima doesn’t notice (?) and thinks Ao is throwing herself at him. He covers her up, telling her to value herself more, then confesses that he’s in love with her, leaving Ao stunned and with no idea how to begin to respond.

Ao’s dad may be a lecherous little creep, but she needs to learn that not every member of the opposite sex is quite that bad, and there is already evidence Kijima is nothing like the sex-crazed animal she imagined. Perhaps interacting with him on a more consistent basis is the first step towards a healthier approach to social interaction.

This isn’t nearly as sharp or sophisticated as Love is War, or as diverse and manic as Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro, or as weird and touching as Hinamatsuri or as warm and cozy as WotaKoi. In my advancing years I’ve apparently developed more stringent standards for my comedy and rom-coms. ACS isn’t exceptional in any way, and will have to work awfully hard to keep me interested, even as a guilty pleasure. At least it’s short.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 11 – #KaedeGoals

That little cliffhanger about Mai (actually Nodoka in Mai’s body) being seen with Sakuta by a photographer? No biggie; the director of her upcoming film decides to spin it into a marketing opportunity, while Mai admits to the relationship and is candid not only in how it occurred (a kohai confessed in front of the entire school) but why it matters (were it not for him she wouldn’t be back in show business).

Now Mai and Sakuta get to hang out without any problems, and the two are on cloud nine. Then Sakuta gets a letter from “Shouko” whom he later confirms is not the middle schooler of the same name who hasn’t come by the house in a while, but rather his “first crush.”

When he confides in Futaba seeking advice, Futaba texts everything he tells her to Mai, making her status as a confidant now somewhat suspect! It’s all good, once more: Mai is fine with him meeting Shouko, as long as he’s back by six so she can make him dinner. He doesn’t get a kiss, though.

The main dilemma this week isn’t Sakuta and Mai’s relationship or the return of “Shouko”, but Sakuta’s little sister Kaede, who’d kinda served as the show’s mascot up to this point. Still, as a victim of such intense bullying she and Sakuta had to move and she stopped going outside, it was clear the show was going to promote her to the lead in an arc at some point.

Sakuta is about to go to the beach to meet with Shouko, but he’s delayed by the sudden appearance of one of Kaede’s classmates, who saw Sakuta in a magazine tracked him down. She wants to meet with Kaede to apologize for not doing more to stop the bullying, now that the ones who bullied her were themselves bullied out of the school. Back home, the numerous visits from the other girls Sakuta has helped has convinced Kaede that she can’t remain stagnant, and begins compiling a list of goals to become more independent.

Her first small step is to answer the phone when someone other than Sakuta is on the line (in this case, Mai), but the stress of doing that for the first time in a long time causes her to nearly faint. Even more distressing, when Kaede is resting to recover from a fever, Sakuta notices a dark red blotch on her neck; no doubt another symptom of adolescence syndrome, much like his own chest slash marks.

However, Kaede recovers, the blotch disappears, and she keeps taking smal steps, aided in no small part by an extremely kind and understanding Mai, who offers a number of cute outfits she wore in magazine shoots for Kaede to wear when she goes outside.

The day finally arrives, and Sakuta comes home to a fully resolved sister. Still, it takes Sakuta lying about how far outside of the entryway they’ve strayed to get Kaede to follow through; call it one last little nudge to get her where she herself wants to be. It’s a truly triumphant, emotional moment that’s a long time coming; even Sakuta can’t help but tear up.

Kaede was scared of the outside, where the love of their home, like a security blanket, wasn’t out there to protect her. She still is. But she’s far more scared of staying inside, so even though her brother tricked her, she’s grateful.

From there, Kaede takes larger and larger steps until she’s able to roam around outside without clinging to Sakuta. He decides to surprise her by taking a trip to the beach, along with Mai and Nodoka. They have a grand old time, and Kaede is having fun…until her friend arrives, and she retreats behind Sakuta once more.

This friend doesn’t understand why Kaede doesn’t remember her, but Sakuta has an explanation, and it’s something he’s been waiting for the right moment to tell Mai too: Kaede has no memories. I suspect that is to say, no memories from after whatever psychological break she suffered as a result of her bullying.

Obviously, that’s still objectively not good, and looking back at Kaede’s behavior, it has seemed like a part of her was missing beyond the part that could go outside and interact with people. The stagnancy she fears isn’t just about remaining shut in, but about that yawning gap in her memory.

The two main questions are 1.) will and how will Sakuta & Co. help Kaede get those memories back, and 2.) where do “Shouko” and Makinohara Shouko” fit into this equation, if at all?

Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun – 01 (First Impressions)

Morita-san is taciturn. Tanaka-kun is listless. Sakamoto is…Sakamoto (haven’t you heard?). And Aoyama-kun…is a clean freak. He’s also a elite young soccer talent who was selected for the national team’s under-16 squad.

But unlike Tanaka in particular, there’s not much to Aoyama beyond those dual main qualities. His constant scrubbing, and the adoration of his legions of mostly-female fans, becomes tedious pretty fast.

His soccer senpai (and advantaged rich kid) Zaizen also grows weary of Aoyama’s shtick pretty quickly. We get it; dude’s a germophobe…though even that’s arguable, since he doesn’t wear surgical masks everywhere and doesn’t seem to have much of a problem being outside.

We learn in the cold open, and it is confirmed when the team practices against a rival elite team led by the washboard abs-bearing Takechi (who is trying to poach Aoyama) that Aoyama is indeed a singular, if bizarre, soccer talent; applying his obsessive “cleanliness” with a gameplan completely devoid of physical contact, combined with sharpshooter precision on passes and shots. But look to someone else for checks and headers.

Admiring Aoyama from afar (and possibly content to keep it that way) is the very cute but also clearly fixated Gotou Moka, who would like to think she’s locked in on what Aoyama thinks and does, since they’re soulmates or something.

But ostensible side characters like Zaizen, Takechi, and even Moka herself are all more dimensional characters than Aoyama, simply because they have more to say and we see things from their perspective.

Don’t get me wrong: Studio Hibari has rolled out a very good-looking anime in Keppeki Danshi; many of Aoyama’s moves in slow motion are cinematic in their presentation. The character design is clean and crisp. Overall the production is competent. The comedy is well-timed if unexceptional so far (the abs-bearing guy is particularly lame). Colorful—if still shallow—personalities abound.

But the main problem so far is the titular character. Aoyama is little more than cleanliness and soccer ability, and he’s always observed from a distance. He has to develop as more of an actual human being if the audience is going to be expected to connect with and keep rooting for the guy.

There’s a slight but promising glimmer of that when Aoyama suddenly comes to life with five minutes to go, even getting dirty in service of winning the game because he really hates losing.

But if we don’t see more of stuff like that, and continue in the vein of “OMG look at what clean-freak thing Aoyama’s doing now!” ad nauseum, Aoyama-kun won’t just be a “Cleanliness Boy”…he’ll be a Boy I’m Not Watching.

Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 11

uso111

We’re still in the middle of our journey.

That’s true, both for Kousei, and for us, as this is the eleventh in a 22-episode series. It’s right where we want to be, too: Kousei has, by ‘defiling the sacred garden of competition’, found himself, but he still sucks at the piano right now. He is, in the parlance of Whisper of the Heart, a rough stone that needs polishing to become a gem. That polishing will take time, blood, sweat, and tears…far more than he’s already expended to this point!

uso112

In a shock to precisely no one, Kousei didn’t even make it through the preliminaries; his performance was a train wreck after all, and he stopped in the middle. But he doesn’t care…and that’s what vexes Takeshi so…at first. Tak had always seen Kousei as his HERO; someone who always took the stage alone, never gave up, did amazing things, then left the stage alone. This new, ‘human-like’ Kousei is strange and foreign to him, but in the end, it’s better that he is the way he is now.

Emi certainly sees this as an improvement. As bad as Kousei played, she could hear clearly that he was playing FOR something, or someone, that there was a purpose to him being on that stage beyond playing the sheet music perfectly like a robot. She liked the mischievous Kousei that peeked his head out from behind the curtain, and wants to hear more. And I’m sure she will!

uso113

On the way home from his own loss, Kousei puts on a brave and stoic face, knowing he did his best. But just as Ryouta and Tsubaki did before him, the pang of defeat catches up to him and he has no choice but to run screaming as the train passes. It’s a cheesy scene, but a powerful one, and well-earned.

uso114

Summer approacheth, but Kaori isn’t going to let Kousei rest on his moral laurels. There’s a concert gala at Towa Hall, and they’re going to play together again; this time, Kreisler’s Liebeleid (and I noticed and enjoyed Kaori breaking into German now and then)

Kousei’s mother’s (and, really, his) friend Seto Hiroko, Japan’s top pianist, is an interesting and welcome addition to the cast. Hiroko is super-cool and just happened to be present for Kousei’s self-finding experiment. She’s surprised he went back to the piano, and he tells her about the weird violinist who brought him back into the musician fold, Hiroko was clearly heartened.

uso115

In the flashback, we see a non-evil Kousei’s mom who wasn’t going to make Kousei into a pianist at all “if she could help it”, but it was Hiroko who noticed he had a special gift and insisted his mom nurture it. We know what happened after that. Now, two years later, Kousei’s come out of limbo and wants her to teach him how to play properly again. He owes it to Kaori.

uso116a
uso116b

That brings us to the episode’s climax and the true middle point of the show, in which Kousei finally tells Kaori directly (in a field of fireflies) that it was her that gave him the power and the strength to play. As she had probably gathered, he was playing only for her; sought only her approval and endorsement. This isn’t one of those romantic scenes where the two throw themselves into each others’ arms and kiss, but it was still pretty damn rousing.

So ephemeral and weak. But it’s shining with all its might.

That being said, the show is determined to rain on its own parade by reiterating that NO, Kaori will NOT be around forever for Kousei to lean on. She led him back to the world of music, but no doubt her health won’t allow her to stay on the same path as him much longer. As much as I hate to say it, I just don’t see Kaori lasting until the end of this show.

Which begs the question: how will he deal with her inevitable demise? What or whom will he choose to replace what now seems utterly irreplaceable?

9_ses