As Ayaka lies in the hospital in a coma, Narumi asks Alice for help investigating her attempted suicide. Alice officially names him her full-fledged Assistant. They soon learn that Hakamizaka, a brilliant young student specializing in plant genetics, is the one behind the recent Angel Fix distribution. Through Toshi, he made Ayaka unwittingly plant flowers in the gardening club’s greenhouse to be used in the producition of the narcotic. Naurmi still doesn’t believe Ayaka tried to off herself after finding out what she’d been doing, but only Toshi and Hakamizaka have the answers. Meanwhile, Sou and his yakuza are scouring the city for the scientist, irrespective of sentimental considerations: their goal is merely to clean up the city.
I liked this episode, where for once Narumi is fighting for a very personal cause – discovering the truth about someone he cared about far more than he initially realized. I’m unsure whether it was anything other than a formality, but Narumi is now Alice’s full assistant. Now that they share a common trauma – Ayaka’s attempted suicide, perhaps she feel it would be best if they collaborated as closely as possible for the best results. Seeing with her eyes and speaking with her voice, he directs the other NEETs to find the information he needs. I had assumed Ayaka was dead dead, but here she’s just in a coma. Thus, the chances of her waking up, while announced as slim, are not nil.
Poor Ayaka. For someone as kind and pure as her to come to the realization she’s been helping to create drugs that kill people must have been devastating enough – but that her own beloved brother was putting her up to it must’ve been worse. She didn’t feel she could tell Narumi any of this. As for the exact reason she jumped, perhaps she was goaded into it – or even pushed – by the likes of Hikamizaka. The guy is your classic mad scientist evil genius with pretensions of grandeur and a thuggish side. But now that he’s a wanted man, he’s even more dangerous, as is Toshi, who seems to be hopelessly addicted to Angel Fix. As for Ayaka herself being drugged…well, you’d think the doctors would have checked her bloodwork by now.
When Ayaka’s estranged brother Toshi returns, Narumi has to sit out a case involving a new drug being circulated throughout the city and Toshi’s possible role. His job is to keep Ayaka out of the loop, which strains their friendship. It is repaired when he makes new armbands for the gardening club, and the two work on the roof together the rest of summer. But when fall comes around, the shadows return, and even Narumi cannot stop Ayaka from taking her life.
“Don’t get too close…I just spread pesticide.” When Ayaka says this line, moments before they apologize simultaneously, I immediately thought back (as Narumi had a couple times) to something Toshi said…”God, she’s annoying.” With that in mind, I almost thought she said “I just spread pestilence.” It’s a very sad line, because the ‘don’t get too close’ part is almost a warning not to get too close to her emotionally, even though she said it under the pretence of a physical hazard. But the line is given even more weight once the episode runs it course and delivers the most shocking blow of the series: Ayaka jumps from the roof of the school, which kills her.
Throughout the series, so little has been done with Ayaka, and this episode was almost a recognition of that Ayaka shortfall, and a concerted effort to fix that. I’d say it was successful, as it was one of those episodes that didn’t waste a single minute of airtime telling a rich and ultimately tragic story. Considering last week was a lighthearted baseball episode, and all the other episodes where Ayaka was either marginal or absent, I almost wish we could have had more time with her. But the alacrity of her character’s development this week, as well as her precipitous fall and demise, was expertly done, and provided the best drama since the first episodes.
When Nemoto, a yakuza, threatens to raise the rent of an arcade the NEETs frequent, they convince him to take part in a bet. If the NEETs beat him at baseball, the rent stays the same. To their surprise, it’s a real baseball game, not a video game, they have to participate in. Nemoto also fields ringers and is himself a former ace pitcher. To beat him, Alice and Narumi need to know what kind of player he was.
I have a soft spot for baseball episodes – even DS9 did one for crying out loud – especially when they bear some resemblance to the sport of baseball. This episode did, somewhat. You had your signs, your uncaught strike three, your out pitch, et cetera. Baseball is every bit as much about brains as it is about brawn, and considering the NEET team had more than a few capable players, I wasn’t that outraged that they won. Whether Narumi could actually hit a home run off of Nemo just because he knows what’s coming is a stretch, to be sure. But as an in-between episode it wasn’t bad.
The arcade at stake is apparently where the NEETs spend a lot of time; the owner calls them regulars. Yet nine episodes in and I believe this is the first time we’ve seen them there. Usually they’re just in the alley behind Min’s ramen shop. It was hard to care about the stakes considering this episode was the first time we learned of the arcade’s existence, and Narumi & Co.’s fondness for it. Still, I liked how they still needed to do some detective work to “solve the case” (win the game). And Alice actually going outside and participating in athletics? Unprecedented.