Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 04 – Snakes and Sinners

When Sawa sees the note from Janome she rushes to his hideout, but Kuzuhara heads her off in his car. He won’t let her walk into a trap and ruin the path to revenge he laid out for her just to save a little girl who wants to kill her. It’s not part of his plan, so he knocks her out with the back of his blade.

Unfortunately for him, Sawa is a part of Janome’s plan, and Makoto is working for him now (I guess?) and she siccs a group of changeling bomb dogs(!) on his car. In the ensuing explosions, he and Sawa are separated, and Makoto scoops her up and skedaddles. I guess Janome and Makoto knew Sawa wouldn’t make it to his hideout on her own…???

In a touching flashback to a happier past we’re reminded how cute and kind and human-behaving Sawa once was, as her brother assured her a bird would choose her someday. She wakes up to an array of disco lights and ominous organ music being played by our big bad, Janome with his back turned to her. It’s all a bit…Saturday morning cartoon villain, to be honest!

What was supposed to be dark and menacing comes off as goofy and cheesy, especially with his host of snakes that honestly might’ve have been slightly scarier if they were CG. Janome has a special restraining chair and birdcage all set up for Sawa, and forces her to submit to him fully, lest his badly-drawn snakes kill little Asahi.

He draws some of her blue blood while describing his evil plan, promising to free her and Asahi when that plan is complete, at which point she can kill him if she likes. Oh, and he’s got her brother Takeru strung up on the organ. He’s been keeping him barely alive while using his blood for his experiments, and Sawa is next. Pretty fucked up for a guy who claims to “worship” her clan!

This is when things go a bit off the rails. Makoto, who revealed she was working with Janome, switches sides again by killing the snakes holding Asahi. Another snake takes her arm in return. I guess I was right about her being a triple agent, but we know so little about Makoto that neither apparent turncoat move really did anything for me?

She feels more like a plot device than a character with discernable motivations, and it was time for her to side with Sawa here, so she did. Then Janome eats one of the crystals made out of Sawa’s blood, briefly becomes Mr. Freeze, and then turns into a frankly laughable snake-man monster. At this point, Matoko—who you’ll remember is missing an arm and bleeding profusely—still has the strength to ascend out of the hideout with a cable gun. Uh, bye, I guess??

Sawa enters her much cooler-looking changeling mode, but even that’s undermined by a transformation sequence that is frame-for-frame the same every time. Even this mode apparently isn’t enough, but with his last ounce of strength Takeru tosses some vials full of orange…stuff? at both Janome and Sawa.

The stuff seems to have opposite effects on the two, subduing Janome and powering up Sawa, who slices Janome clean in half. Her revenge thus complete, Sawa goes to her brother, who says it’s too late for him. Then she says in that case she’ll die with him, but then Asahi makes a noise and Sawa remembers why she came here in the first place! Roll Credits.

Sorry for the snarky tone, but Jouran kinda fell apart in this fourth episode, with thing upon thing simply happening and character upon character doing things that either didn’t make a lot of sense or were extremely heavy-handed (i.e. the organ schtick). With Sawa’s nemesis Janome turning out to be a relative pushover, I don’t know what’s next for her and the rest of Nue, but I don’t much care either.

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 03 – A Blue Coffin

After Sawa learns that Yoshinobu himself ordered Kuzuhara to have the Treasurer killed, Makoto suggests that Sawa drop the “sister act” and cut little Asahi loose. All of them in Nue have assigned roles to play, and none of them can afford to let sentiment dull their wits.

After recalling when Kuzuhara first showed her a slideshow of her family and village’s destruction and the person responsible, ordering her not to cry, Sawa puts up the hard front Kuzuhara aimed to teach her in dealing with Asahi. Sawa refuses to let Asahi kill her until she’s killed Janome, and tells her to be gone by the time she returns that night.

Sawa, Elena, and Makoto all confront Nue’s cleaner, whom they suspect is a traitor passing secrets to Kuchinawa, finding money in the coffin he’s pushing. He pleads his innocence, then sets off a bomb with a detonator in his hat. Sawa follows him down a secret tunnel hidden in a tomb, while Elena intends to head him off on the surface. Meanwhile, a dejected Asahi seeks comfort in her grandmotherly neighbor Yamazaki.

But the cleaner never went in the tunnel; he hid in the coffin. When Makoto, who lied to Elena about a twisted ankle, opens it and the cleaner pulls a gun. A shot rings out, and Makoto later reports that the cleaner killed himself. But at this point Makoto was already acting super suspicious.

While burying the cleaner themselves, Elena asks Sawa what coffin she’d want to be buried in, her preference being red. Sawa doesn’t answer at first, then says blue, like her blood and that of her clan. That said, she won’t be put into a coffin until Janome is in his.

Makoto meets with Kuzuhara, who reveals he is a woman by tearing his clothes to reveal her chest binding, warning her to never forget where she stands. But Kuzuharais seemingly in the dark about where Makoto actually stands. Before the Treasurer died, she gave Makoto a karuta card that serves as a treasure map. Makoto follows it and discovers a small book that the Treasurer said could bring down “Tokugawa, Nue…all of it.”

Sawa comes home to find Asahi gone, but on her desk is the piece of paper with “Yuki” written on it Asahi had reconstructed with paste. Sawa then sees that Asahi left the satchel she gave her containing cash and a boat ticket to her new home, and blood on the walls.

Her white crow comes to help her search for Asahi, but we find out where she is first: in the clutches of Janome, who had disguised himself as Yamazaki with an elaborate prosthetic suit. We also learn that Makoto is indeed in cahoots with Janome, serving as a double agent. Or maybe triple, if Kuzuhara knows she’s infiltrated Kuchinawa.

In any case, for Sawa, who’d prefer clarity and simplicity, nothing is simple or clear, and never really was. To whit: she aims to save her would-be murderer from the man who murdered her family, and with whom her fellow Nue agent is working. Not ideal!

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 02 – Nothing Else Is of Any Concern

Makoto meets with Jin on two matters: one is to be briefed on a mission to find the one within Nue who is feeding Kuchinawa assassination targets. The other is to ask about Sawa. Makoto responds to the latter by saying “it saddens me to report that she survived”.

Last week, Asahi prepared to stab Sawa in her sleep. When we see both next, the only thing Asahi is slicing is a daikon radish, and Sawa is very much un-stabbed. This week we learn more about Sawa and Asahi’s pasts, and … Spoilers: those pasts are dark and bloody. First up is Sawa, and if Black Widow has “red in her ledger”, Sawa’s got “blue in her diary.” Well, her mom’s diary.

We know how Sawa hid while her mother, father, and brother were slaughtered. But how did Sawa end up an assassin with Yue? Jin arrived at the ruins of her village as she was trying to bury the charred remains of her family. His mere presence there the morning after their deaths might’ve normally raised a red flag for Sawa, but the very light had gone out of her eyes.

It didn’t matter at the time if there was a chance Jin had something to do with the death of her family. He was offering her a chance at revenge, and that chance brought the light back to her eyes. Under his tutelage she became a graceful and efficient killing machine. Jin made a deal: he’d use her to make Nue stronger, and she’d use him to get her revenge.

Sawa puts the blank diary of dark memories away and joins Elena for their next mission: make contact with a Nue agent named “the Treasurer” and get her to safety. They identify her waiting tables at a restaurant by the fact she can memorize everyone’s orders and whisk her away, crossbowing and beheading the Kuchinawa gunmen along the way.

While Sawa escorts her through the tunnels, the Treasurer mentions how the shogunate is content to ignore the mounting opposition to their regime outside of Tokyo. She also knows a lot about Sawa, because she’s a memorization savant. Meanwhile, Makoto pays Asahi a visit at the bookstore, offering her a bottle of black pills that “kill in ten seconds.” , to use on the person who killed her parents.

That’s right: in the recent past while on a mission, Sawa murdered Sawa’s parents while she was in the next room under burning wreckage of the house they were in. Granted, Asahi’s mother was apparently dolling her up in order to serve her up to a pervert before Sawa arrived, but facts are facts.

When Asahi tried to stab Sawa in her sleep, Sawa woke up instantly (if she was even asleep) and stopped the knife, telling Asahi she needs to strike where she’ll do the most damage, and wait until she’s more vulnerable. When Asahi bursts into tears, Sawa is there to hug her. It’s a strange situation, but it’s true to Sawa’s code: she’s not about to be a hypocrite. If Asahi should exact her revenge by killing her before she can exact hers, so be it.

Sawa, now knowing of the Treasurer’s ability, decides threaten her into telling her everything she knows about the Karasumori village massacre. The Treasurer says how those responsible wanted to keep the Karasumori clan’s blue blood a secret, while Janome stole an imperfect variant of that blood’s power. But the Treasurer stops there, saying Yoshinobu doesn’t tolerate treason.

Her five-year old son is being held hostage; should she betray Yoshinobu, he will die. So Sawa offers to protect her and her son in exchange for the information she wants. When the Treasurer asks why Sawa would go so far for revenge, Sawa answers simply that her entire life is for revenge—just a stretch of borrowed time, in which she’ll either get the job done or die trying.

Sawa and the Treasurer exit the tunnel near a quiet dock where she can be smuggled to safety, but they are intercepted by Kuchinawa agents, along with a Changeling. Elena shows up, and she handles the agents while Sawa enters her blue blood trance and defeats the Changeling.

But when it’s time to put the Treasurer on the boat, Elena stabs her instead and lets her fall into the river, after telling her her son has already died. I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but either the Treasurer fed intel to Kuchinawa, or she and her intel-packed brain were simply too dangerous to be kept alive.

In any case, Sawa loses her best chance yet at learning about what happened at her village and who was responsible. I don’t think she’ll kill Elena or quit Nue, but she can’t be happy that her road to revenge just hit a detour. In any case, this was another dark, bloody, brooding episode of Jouran, packed with bursts of cool action and bookended by an OP and ED by RAISE A SUILEN that both absolutely slap.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jouran: The Princess of Snow and Blood – 01 (First Impressions)

Dark and brooding, stylish and cool, Jouran is the story of a small band of assassins under the employ of the Tokugawa Shogunate. In this alternate history, Tokugawa Yoshinobu is still in power in 1931 thanks in large part to the discovery of the energy source Ryuumyuaku, or Dragon Vein. As a result, Tokyo is a glamorous city where science and Edo-period tradition merge.

Among the assassins is Yukimura Sawa, our protagonist (voiced by Mimori Suzuko, Kamisama Hajimemashita’s Nanami). Sawa is a stoic, no-nonsense young woman who grudgingly shares her living space with the young orphan Asahi who cooks her meals, and is the type to threaten a flirting guy with murder and not be joking.

Her two fellow assassins are the sardonic Tsukishiro Makoto (the striking Shouta Aoi) and the seductive Hanakaze Elena (the musician Raychell), who refers to Sawa as “the little bitch”. Their group’s leader is grim man named Kuzuhara who believes the dissident group Kuchinawa will attempt to assassinate the shogun at a banquet celebrating the completion of the new Tokyo Castle.

Makoto and Elena go undercover as party guests and end up following a bigwig confirmed to be working with the dissidents on the sly. Sawa is notable for her absence from the party, while lil’ Asahi waits at the dinner table in vain.

Makoto and Elena follow the bigwig and his henchmen to a secluded warehouse where an exchange of materials is taking place, and the assassins quickly take down everyone there. Elena uses a rather unique umbrella crossbow, while Makoto uses what I’d describe as a lightsaber katana.

However, their true target, a kemono or “changeling”, is nowhere to be found. Makoto bombs the facility and he and Elena head to the eastern gate of the castle, where he knows one of the vast network of secret tunnels leads from their current position.

Sawa is there, ready to head off the changeling, doing so by transforming into one herself with the help of a white raven. It’s depicted as a volatile and extremely painful process, but once she’s transformed she resembles a serene yuki-onna.

When she realizes her changeling opponent is the young man who flirted with her at the bookstore, she hesitates momentarily, and is wounded, but ultimately takes care of business, slicing off the changeling’s hand and finishing him off with a haunting poem that matches Sawa’s icy beauty and that of the scene:

Amidst the pitiless white snow
A fleeting dream is scattered
The path back leads only to Hell
I have no regrets

Makoto and Elena arrive just after she returns to human form and passes out. The threat to Yoshinobu would seem to be dealt with, but the next day at the official opening ceremony of Tokyo Castle, we witness scenes of carnage involving more changelings, presumably within its walls.

Sawa is recovering at home, but even in sleep she gets no rest, as she’s transported back to when her brother was murdered along with the rest of her family, by Janome, Kuchinawa’s executioner. She’s vowed not to die and join her family until she gets revenge on Janome, but Asahi seems prepared to kill her in her sleep with a kitchen knife. I guess she doesn’t like being kept waiting for dinner, huh?

Like Sawa, Jouran and its familiar-yet-bizarre alternate Tokyo carries itself with a quiet, assured dignity, but just as Sawa is tormented by trauma and tragedy, corruption, suffering, and death lurk beneath the gleaming Shogunate capital, much of it delivered by monsters in suits and with claws.

Assuming Sawa survives her tiny assassin’s attack, I’m excited to watch her continue to walk the line between her official duty and blood debts.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Day I Became a God – 09 – Higher Powers

Finally, Suzuki’s story fully merges with Hina and Youta’s, resulting in tragedy for all three—just as we’d suspected! Suzuki runs an analysis of Hina and Youta’s interactions and discovers that Dr. Korogi’s research has somehow enabled Hina to live healthy life despite her Logos Syndrome.

Under her influence the painfully ordinary Narukami Youta has achieved extraordinary things. This is all theoretically fascinating to Suzuki, but when his Handler reports his findings to the CEO, Hina’s Doomsday Clock’s hands accelerate towards midnight.

Before we’re invited to sow what we’ve reaped by fully emotionally investing in Hina and Youta’s relationship, we get a little context into where Suzuki Hiroto is coming from. A hacking prodigy from a young age, his parents exploited his talents for their own monetary gain. When he refused to continue on moral grounds, they beat him.

He now finds himself a virtual ward of a corporation and its CEO, likely as the result of a settlement that kept him out of prison—a glorified whitehat. He’s dreadfully frustrated to still find himself figuratively and literally under the heel of cynical humans who lack his intellect and imagination.

But while he may be smarter than virtually everyone, he’s not able to see how they’re exploiting his abilities and innate curiosity to basically dig Hina’s grave for them. He starts with a deep dive into the digital ether, visualized perhaps too on-the-nose-ly as a deep blue sea complete with dolphins, whales, and a very conspicuous red goldfish.

More than sticking it to the adults he hates so much and who have done nothing other than step on him, Suzuki above all wishes to have capital-W Worth, and at this stage in his existence he believes his hacking talent to be the sum total of that worth. So he can’t help but reach out and grab that which probably shouldn’t be touched, and as such, he seemingly achieves a digital connection with Hina.

That is, he’s able to access the quantum computer chip placed in Hina’s brain by Professor Korogi in order to cure her Logos Syndrome. Practically moments after his findings are presented to the CEO, they are run up the flagpole to Higher Powers, i.e. the government leaders of the world. Such people are concerned with far bigger pictures and longer games than the happiness of one boy, one girl, and one small circle of friends in Japan.

In fact, they believe that the continued existence of the quantum computer out in the world presents an unacceptable risk to global peace. They have decided—and have the power to enforce—the notion that the computer must be retrieved and hidden away until such a time that mankind is ready for it.

Once Hina is made aware of the order to apprehend her and take her computer, she apologizes to Youta, who thinks she’s trying to apologize for the sudden rainstorm she predicted before the drops fell. She isn’t; she’s apologizing for wrongfully assuming that because she in her omniscience could not see beyond thirty days, that it would be the end of the world…not simply the end of hers.

At no point does it occur to Hina that she could or should resist this fate; she is oddly detached and almost clinical in her confusion when Youta grabs her and runs out of the park pavilion as the film crew buys them time. Finally Youta stops and explains: He had fun this Summer with Hina, and doesn’t want to lose her. He wants to spend the rest of his life with her, because he loves her—something Hina never thought she’d hear from anyone other than her gramps.

He wants that to be enough of a reason for protecting her, but while Hina tearfully confesses she’s come to love him too, she still doesn’t believe there’s any sense in fighting that which her own omniscience has already decided cannot be fought. The pertinent governments of the world are unanimous: Her world is to end without delay.

The question is, will it really end? Suzuki managed to warn Hina, but only gave her enough time to say her rather rushed goodbyes. Could he somehow escape his handlers’ clutches and aid Youta & Co. in some way? Or will this outcome stand, Hina is doomed, and what comes next is Youta & Co. processing the grief and moving on with her memory in their hearts driving them to be better people?

Personally, I hope there’s still some way to save Hina despite the ridiculous odds stacked against the good guys. But I have to admit…It is not looking good!

Assault Lily: Bouquet – 07 – A Brand New Sister

When a mysterious unmanned vessel is shipwrecked by an apparent Huge attack, who should be first on the scene but Yuyu and Riri’s legion, while on a routine beach patrol. They discover the remains of a Huge, while Riri finds a strange pod and inadvertently sends a tiny shock of energy through it with her CHARM.

Before she knows it, a beautiful girl with lilac hair has emerged from the pod, and immediately embraces Riri. She is brought to the infirmary and made everyone’s immediate object of intense curiosity. That’s right: it’s time for Assault Lily’s “Mysterious Amnesiac” episode.

Not surprisingly, the girl, identified as a Lily, “imprints” on Riri, whether due to the fact she made first contact, due to Riri’s natural charm, or both. She also has the precise “Skiller Value” as Riri, which can’t be a coincidence. In a fraught conference call with a concerned Security Committee brass, Yurigaoka’s Acting Chairman asserts the academy’s autonomy in matters of Lilies.

Due to the girl’s attachment to her, Riri is compelled to step back from her usual studies and Legion responsibilities to become her full-time caretaker. Yuyu and her comrades are understanding, supportive, and admiring of Riri’s compassion…but Yuyu’s restless leg betrays a tinge of jealousy—something Kaede knows all too well and is amused to see in the “lone wolf” Yuyu.

With Riri by her side, the girl not only learns to talk (again…?) but stand, walk, and eventually run, making great progress in a short period of time. When Riri finally reunites with Yuyu, her new “ward” is in tow, making a Yuyu sandwich. All their other comrades crowd together to get a look at the adorable new face. As for her name, she seems to like Yuri, the couple name Fumi gave to Yuyu and Riri, but also apropos in this case as it’s almost as if Yuri is the “fruit of their love.”

They can welcome Yuri (registered under Riri’s surname of Hitotsuyanagi for now) as the newest member of their Legion because the Acting Chairman Takamatsu agreed to make her a full-fledged Lily, complete with uniform and academy admission. StuCo president Izue Shinobu wonders if that’s rash, but the concern from the brass means “people are snooping in the shadows” over Yuri, and Takamatsu wants to draw them out.

The mysteries that surround Yuri herself are also, well, legion: Did she lose her memory, or is she a newly-awakened Lily? How much did Riri’s initial interaction with the pod influence how she’d awaken? Are Riri and Yuri now inextricably connected? Was Yuri some kind of experiment in mass-produced Lilies? Will Riri, Yuyu, and the academy be able to protect her from whomever seeks her out? Hopefully we’ll get insight into these matters next week as Yuri settles into her new life.

Koi to Uso – 07

Neither Yukari nor Ririna are remotely ready for…whatever it is Yukari thinks they have to do to not get penalized, so it’s a huge relief to see that they don’t make love here and now.

Romantic feelings have only just started to well up in Ririna’s heart and challenge her head, and it’s never occurred to her until now that her head could lose. She’s afraid of the person she becomes when Yukari gets so close to her, because it’s a person she simply doesn’t know.

As for Yukari, he’s so scared that they’re being watched to make sure they do it, he gets it in his head to try to “pretend” in order to fool them. That’s all you really need to know to determine that his head is already fighting a losing battle…and it wasn’t that great a head to begin with.

Saying the word “pretend” anywhere near an already vulnerable and confused Ririna is just a terrible move, but at least Yukari apologizes, and when she says she just needs some space and time, he gives it to her. You’d think the classic “cultural festival play” scenario would take his mind off of things, but…wait, what am I saying? SHIT no it wouldn’t! Yukari’s a dreary mess.

At least, I thought to myself, Yukari wasn’t chosen to play Juliet. When Yukari drops the figure Ririna gave him and takes a hammer strike to the hand to protect it, he ends up in the infirmary, where a worried-sick Misaki enters, but takes a few moments to collect herself before talking.

She and Yukari haven’t talked in almost a month, because she’s instituted a “Neji ban” on herself, lest fall even more in love with the guy. I would say the ship has sailed on that.

When Yukari is vague even when pressed—saying ‘some things happened and I hurt Ririna’s feelings’, Misaki uses her strong diplomatic ties with Ririna to try to learn more from her. In the process she remembers a story from middle school when Yukari made the best hotcakes, and Ririna learns he can cook.

Still, Ririna says she doesn’t want to see him, but feels terribly lonely without him. Wellsir, whatcha got there is a bad case of being in love. Misaki’s spirits plummet when she hears this, because now she and Ririna are both trapped in a spiral of longing and guilt, trying in vain to organize or balance their feelings with the other person’s.

It turns out Yajima, the ministry officer who messed with Yukari last week was in virtually the same position Yukari now finds himself in. The girl in question who he loved is his Ministry colleague Ichijou (the redhead), who don’t you know it, offered to reject her official match if he, the man she really loved, married her instead.

But he BLEW IT, and now he works beside that person every day, hiding the feelings that have never fully dispersed, and taking it out on poor innocent, dimwitted burial mound enthusiasts. Joking aside, Yajima doesn’t think their situations are truly identical, because in Yukari’s case, even as he harbors feelings for Misaki, he’s developing feelings for Ririna as well.

Yajima recommends Yukari not think too much, since teenagers aren’t good at that anyway. Instead, he should act, and he does, by writing Ririna a long text from the heart telling her how he felt about her taking an interest in his interests, and hoping they can go see burial mounds someday.

Ririna doesn’t respond by text that day, to Yukari’s further dejection, but in the morning post a beautifully hand-written letter from Ririna arrives, which is even more honest and moving than Yukari’s text. It even moves him to tears…in front of his mom! In any case, while trying to fix things and getting discouraged, Ririna wrote exactly what was needed to cheer her future husband up.

It certainly feels like they’ll be even more on the mend next week, but now that Misaki is certain that Ririna also loves Yukari, she finds herself stuck between supporting her friends and wishing them the best, and the selfish girl wanting the giant toy in the window.

Misaki believes she has the power to influence (i.e. advance) their relationship with just three words to Ririna—you’re in love—but wasn’t able to when they met up, and probably will continue to have a great deal of difficulty ever doing so, and with good reason: she’s not a masochist!

Koi to Uso – 06

Whoa, hold on, what are Yukari and Ririna doing, making out in bed? Oh, it’s just Ririna’s first sexy dream about Yukari. Little did she—or I—know that by episode’s end that dream would become shockingly close to reality.

This is due to a combination of factors, including a genuine growing affection for one another as they get to know each other better, the scientific process by which they were chosen to marry one another, and oh yeah, a ruthless alternate-universe Japanese government that is NOT FUCKING AROUND when it comes to population growth.

Yes, this episode checks in momentarily with Misaki and Nisaka, and new characters are introduced in Ririna’s new friend Arisa and Yukari’s middle-school classmate Igarashi, but thankfully the focus is on the two people that aggressive government program determined should get hitched, get it on, and have at least 2 children.

To that end, everyone who recently got their notices are instructed to leave school early and report to…a hotel…uh-oh. The strangeness of the situation is definitely felt by our surrogates, Yukari and Ririna. He sees aa classmate with his “pre-Yukari way-out-of-his-league” future wife, and turns inward to wonder if people look at him and Ririna like he’s looking at them.

Then that very thing happens. Ririna arrives sporting a new hairstyle and the gift of a creepy figuring that Yukari loses his shit over. He has a gift for her two, and his classmate and future wife marvel at how well this system seems to pick people who clearly like each other.

Both Yukari and Ririna bristle at that, but as the afternoon progresses, The State systematically runs roughshod over whatever doubts and reservations the two may have. Indeed, Ririna, having only recently researched French kissing, is particularly uncomfortable with all the sex talk going on by the Ministry’s presenter, a True Believer in the Yukari System if ever there was one.

Condoms are passed out. The now-healthy birthrate is mentioned to tout the success of the system. Sex is healthily discussed in terms of its physiological and mental benefits, in addition to just feeling good. It’s gotta be a lot to take in for a bunch of 16-year-olds, and that is no accident on the part of the Ministry.

After concluding the lecture with a very informative porno that leaves Ririna shaking and Yukari desperate to keep Misaki out of his head, all of the husband-wife pairs are assigned hotel rooms and ordered to spend the night together. A random Ministry guy hinting (in jest) that they’ll be “watched” and an overheard rumor about consequences for “not banging” only hikes up the pressure.

Before they know it, Yukari and Ririna are alone in a tastefully lit, comfortable room, staring down a big bed. There are no chairs, as Ririna helpfully points out. Yukari is LOSING IT. He’s stuck in his head, and at least finally realizes it, but when he tries to think of what he can do for Ririna, what he comes up with mirrors the beginning of her dream in which they make out: he pins her to the bed. As she awaits the next move, the episode mercilessly (or mercifully) fades to black…

The Yukari Law was born out of necessity. Japan’s birthrate hovered around 1.46 births per woman in 2015. That’s just not good enough to make up for the people aging and dying. There’s no telling what the economic, social, and cultural consequences will be, but you can bet they’ll be bad. Robots aren’t the answer. People study and work too much to get by or get ahead. Family often takes a backseat to success. A lot of younger people just don’t want it.

These are the harsh realities that face the Japan here, in our world. And while it’s doubtful anything as comprehensively invasive as Yukari will ever be implemented, Koi to Uso still serves as a kind of thought experiment in which a relatively simple fix is applied: get people to make more babies. Simple in concept, but ridiculously complex and problem-fraught in execution.

Its exploration of that what-if scenario, with a focus on four youths going against the grain, is as unsettling as it is riveting.

Koi to Uso – 05

The potentially infamous Love Quadrangle Camping Trip from Hell is upon us, and things start out expectedly bumpy, with Ririna protesting Yukari’s choice to invite Nisaka along and Nisaka and Misaki exchanging looks that to us clearly look like two rivals in love, but to Yukari like they’re into each other.

Inevitably, Yukari ends up catching the girls playing in the river in their swimsuits, but neither accuses him of being a pervert. Indeed, Ririna thinks nothing of calling him over to play with them, only to twist her ankle and require he princess-carry her back to camp (since she considers piggyback to be too lewd).

Ririna is a bit of a tsundere for most of this trip where Yukari is concerned, but there’s a good reason for that: she’s increasingly unable to hold back her own feelings for Yukari for her good friend Misaki’s sake. Her face even blushes when she finds herself admiring Yukari as he talks so passionately about researching burial mounds.

Then there’s Nisaka, who Yukari has the exact wrong idea about. Nisaka isn’t into Misaki; he’s into Yukari. But despite having a golden opportunity to do so, Nisaka is unable to come out and confess this. But to be fair, this is a guy who likes guys in a society where guys are matched up with girls by the government and told in no uncertain terms (a la Adama) to “make babies.” Also he values his friendship with Yukari and doesn’t want to ruin it.

Despite the conflicting feelings floating around her head, Ririna is still committed to getting true lovers together as often as she can, even to the point of pairing herself with Nisaka, whom she has a very low opinion of, so Yukari and Misaki can be alone together.

Again, things turn out how one would expect: while chasing a firefly, Misaki slips and starts to fall down a hill. Yukari can’t catch her, but she grabs his arm and takes him down with her. They then spend a good long time on the ground, in each others’ arms, simply listening to their hearts pound against each other.

Nisaka is aware of Ririna’s gambit and straight-up questions what she hopes to get out of it. If Misaki and Yukari marry, it’s not like there’ll be some kind of ménage à trois situation, like the creator of Wonder Woman. Ririna could fall by the wayside…or would she?

And while we finally learn there are no overt criminal penalties, it’s made clear by Nisaka that those who reject their matches are marked for life, and will find it tougher to realize their futures. Nisaka minces no words in accusing Ririna of courting disaster. (I say if you’re as desperately in love as Misaki and Yukari seem to be, I’d say it’s worth it. You can’t put a price on happiness, be it fines or lost wages.)

But Ririna…just wants two people in love to be together. When the two pairs reunite and find the clearing where a cloud of fireflies pepper the night, she defiantly takes the hands of both Misaki and Yukari. Yukari then inadvertently twists her intention by taking Nisaka’s hand as well.

Whatever labels society wants to put on his relationships, Yukari just wants to exist in that beautiful place with people he likes. The camping trip ends with him still thinking Nisaka likes Misaki, but I’ll allow him his blissful ignorance a little longer. A new notice in the mail suggests this love quadrangle’s trials have only just begun.

Koi to Uso – 04

Lilina comes over to Yukari’s for dinner, much to the joy of his giddy parents, who openly talk of how quickly they became intimate. Strange how the imminent threat of cultural extinction changes what is and isn’t proper dinnertime conversation!

Lilina also cleans up Yukari’s room, which is a bad look for Yukari, though in his defense he became engrossed in a book about burial mounds (as you do). I half-expected Lilina to discover his porn stash, only to find it’s all just burial mound magazines.

Lilina happily help cleans up though, not just because she can’t stand to sit around in squalor, but because the cleanup is an opportunity to dig up some more details on her new BFF Misaki, as well as get more out of Yukari about when he fell in love and how it felt.

Yukari’s pretty good at expressing this, especially how the very scenery in one’s everyday life changed after he fell for her.

Then two suits from “The Ministry of Love” show up to basically ask how the soon-to-be-happy couple is getting on, then giving them a speech about how great the Yukari Law is and how it’s way more precise and less prone to failed pairings than the arrange marriage laws of yore.

And while such a system might be admirable in theory, its complete and total disregard for actual love between non-paired people almost makes the medicine worse than the disease…if the disease weren’t the death of Japan due to no one making babies.

But the spooks say the same things others (including Misaki herself later!) have said, and something on which I agree: Yukari and Lilina do seem to make a good couple. Obviously that came down to the science determining that these two peoples’ personalities would be compatible, and there’s a slight temptation to say “well, what would be so wrong with them just getting married?”

Wellsir, that would be fine except for the fact Yukari loves someone else…and she loves him back. Lilina not only remains totally okay with Yukari kissing Misaki daily, she basically orders him to, not for his sake, but for that of Misaki’s happiness.


When Yukari tells Lilina he thinks it’s “weird” his assigned wife is telling him to kiss another girl, she promptly returns his volley with deadly accuracy: “it’s even weirder that the world forbids you from kissing the person you like.” Amen, sister!

So Yukari has his orders: he’s not to give up so soon, even though he believes Misaki has received her marriage notice. Which is odd, because I thought she already received it, and her assigned husband is Nisaka, and has been keeping it a big secret.

But even her odd little argument with Nisaka that Yukari gets a glimpse of could be anything. It could be Nisaka told her how he feels about Yukari, but Misaki remains firm that he’s her’s. When Yukari works with Misaki after school, he congratulates her, but he’s off base: she didn’t receive her notice.

Another titular lie? If not, why did the suits visit? And was it sheer coincidence such a science-y ministry asked Yukari where Misaki lives? Do they not have Google Maps? In any case, Misaki adds that no matter who was chosen to be her husband, Yukari will be “the only person who’ll ever be special to me,” before leaning in to kiss him.

Lilina, it would seem, was right: Misaki isn’t giving up, so neither should Yukari. Lilina doesn’t feel she has adequate skin in the game, and so doesn’t want to be yet another impediment to Real Love in a world that’s already turned against it. That’s noble, but I do hope, as seems to be the case, that she starts to grow closer to Yukari despite that.

For now, she’s still far more focused on Yukari and Misaki, to the point she invites Misaki to their two families’ camping trip, and she says yes. Not sure he’d be able to deal with the stress being in a triangle during the trip, he invites (and eventually bribes) Nisaki to come along too.

And so there you have it: an arranged couple on a camping trip, each bringing along a person in love with Yukari. Should be interesting!

Koi to Uso – 03

As Yukari continues to be pushed and pulled hither and thither by Lilina, it’s worth mentioning he wasn’t always so passive. Nisaka remembers being hassled by a bigger guy, and Yukari called the cops. Overreaction? Certainly, but it still took guts. He didn’t do nothing.

Meanwhile Lilina’s romantic experimentation continues apace; inviting both her betrothed and Misaki to her house; Misaki, who still utterly ignores him at school.

Misaki and Lilina get along swell, to the point the skittish Yukari simply fades until the background…but it isn’t long before Lilina asks to watch the two kiss—and they come very close to doing so, because Misaki (and not Yukari) leans into his lips.

At the last second, Yukari, flustered beyond belief, bails out, which Misaki thinks is “so cute.” Lilina can’t help but agree. But later, taking Lilina’s hands ever-so-tenderly into her own, Misaki tells her she wants her to fall in love with her future husband…because she doesn’t think she’s “the right girl” for him.

Lilina maintains that two people already in love—Misaki and Yukari—should kiss at least once a day, every day. As she walks part of the way with Yukari when he heads home, who should appear but Nisaka, who quickly labels Lilina (hiding behind Yukari) “well-tamed” and “still a virgin,” both very rude remarks Yukari should have been stronger to condemn.

Back at school, Yukari notices Misaki and Nisaka staring daggers into each other, and he immediately thinks the two most attractive people in his class (by his reckoning) look so perfect together that’s it’s likely, as unpleasant a prospect as it would be, that there’s something going on between them.

But while thinking and overthinking about it while changing after PE, Yukari finds himself behind the bell, and runs into Misaki in the hall, apparently waiting for him. He tells her about the kiss-a-day order from Lilina, but before Misaki can tell him what she told Lilina, a teacher walks past, forcing him to take her hand and move them behind a pillar.

There the two start making out, leaving Yukari to wonder how this could be “wrong” or “taboo” and why it’s so hard to lie and pretend they’re not something that they are; namely, in love.

While the teacher didn’t spot the two kissing, Nisaka does walk right by them, and his reaction is cryptic. I was thinking right until he leaned over to a dozing Yukari to give him a kiss that the big secret the show wanted to reveal is that Nisaka and Misaki have been selected to marry one another by the government.

And hey, that could still be true, but just as Lilina maintains she doesn’t love Yukari (at least not yet; that seems well on its way to changing), Nisaka certainly isn’t into Misaki, and vice-versa. Rather, Nisaka is into Yukari, and Yukari is simply oblivious.

So now we have a love quadrangle. And that reveals another wrinkle this whole Yukari Law mess: no same-sex marriage. You got me, show: I had no idea Nisaka would kiss Yukari. And I still think he’s Misaki’s still-secret arranged husband.

Koi to Uso – 02

Now that’s more bloody like it! After a frustratingly messy first episode, Koi to Uso gets back on track thanks to the introduction of Yukari’s future wife, the fair Sanada Lilina. The unrelenting enthusiasm of both kids’ parents really made me feel bad for them; it’s like some cruel joke being delivered with an easy smile.

But before Yukari and Lilina’s first meeting, Yukari comes to school (despite his mother calling him out for the meeting) to see and hear from Misaki…who has already put up a wall. She coldly tells Yukari she meant for them to remain pleasant memories, meaning “they” are now a thing of the past.

It puts an already nervous, frustrated, and above all scared Yukari in an even worse mood for the meeting with Lilina, who is both smart, gorgeous, and above all doesn’t take any shit from Yukari. She storms out when she’s fed up with his apathy, but he finds her in a linen closet, apologizes, and explains himself.

When he talks of his love for Misaki, Lilina responds in the opposite way Yukari expected: rather than jealous or angry, she’s intrigued, and only wants to hear more. She also wants to know the truth of his and Misaki’s love, which means she needs to know her side. But from what she can tell, Misaki is lying about being done with him.

So Yukari and Lilina return to their folks holding hands, and take a nice pic of each other to show their friends, and Misaki continues to pretend she doesn’t care. Then Yukari meets Lilina at her school, and like their first encounter alone, end up in a compromising position because Lilina has trouble realizing when, say, her shirt is unbuttoned, or she’s not wearing pants.

Rom-com cliche aside, the two end up having an earnest conversation. Lilina is nicknamed “Sanadamushi” or “tapeworm” by her peers because she was once very sickly, often absent from school, and as a result has always had trouble making friends; in fact, she has precisely zero!

Okay…that’s also a cliche. But her social awkwardness and open-bookness works in Yukari’s favor. If she was super-popular, or more like normal girls, Yukari would have a lot more trouble talking with her. She probably also wouldn’t do something as rash as confront Misaki the moment she sees her walking past her school.

The trick is, Yukari is out of sight for their confrontation and McDonalds meeting, so Misaki feels free to lift the wall and be earnest about her feelings for Yukari, not skimpin on details, which sound petty (or pathetic) to Misaki at first, but simply watching and hearing a glowing Misaki talk about her love has a strong effect on Lilina.

Misaki likewise is having fun, finally able to open up about her feelings to someone after hiding how she felt for years. She even gets Misaki to admit that while he lacks any composure, Yukari is at least “nice.” The two girls part for the time being, but Misaki promises to text Lilina; this is far from their last meeting.

The realization, soon confirmed by Yukari, that she made her first friend brings tears to Lilina’s eyes. She even questions if she likes Misaki, but it isn’t as if she wants to kiss her, a question that leads to Lilina asking Yukari if he ever kissed her.

His answer—”all the memories between us just kinda exploded”—is pretty much a perfect encapsulation of their turbo tryst. But again, rather than act upset, Lilina has a plan in mind for him and her new friend Misaki: she instructs him to kiss her one more time. That should go well!

In the meantime, it’s safe to say that while they’re hardly lovers, the fact Yukari and Lilina can speak so easily to one another about themselves proves that Misaki wan’t Lilina’s first friend after all—Yukari was.

Of course, the law dictates that they’ll have to be a whole lot more one day, and we still don’t know the identity Misaki’s betrothed (Yuusuke, perhaps, judging from their pointed interaction this week?), but one thing’s for certain: thanks in large part to Lilina, I’m now far more invested in this story.

Koi to Uso – 01 (First Impressions)

To combat its low birth rate, the Japanese government institutes a system of arranged marriage, selecting partners for its citizens when they turn sixteen. Romance between unassigned partners is FORBIDDEN. This…is a comically ludicrous system, but in Koi to Uso (Love and Lies) it’s the law of the land, and apparently it’s not only okay with most of the population, but has actually stabilized the population.

But c’mon, what the heck is up with that system? That’s straight-up eugenics right there. And when you dabble in that, you invariably end up with evil warlords like Khan. Thankfully, our two protagonists, Nejima Yukari (who has the same damn name as the system) and Takasaki Misaki (Hanazawa Kana), are among those who don’t subscribe to a system that coldly forbids them from being with the one they love; namely each other.

Unfortunately, the “romance” of Takasaki Misaki and Nejima Yukari is almost as big a farce as the Yukari Law. Consider: one day, years ago, after four class periods of hesitation, Yukari lends Misaki half of his eraser. She whispers “thank you” in his ear and smiles, and he falls deeply in love. Okay, he’s a little boy; she’s a pretty girl; fine.

But…But…that’s the extent of their contact together…for years, until he approaches her in the hall and asks her to meet up with him after school. After waiting about four hours, Yukari gets up to leave (after building sand burial mounds [??????]), but Misaki shows up at the last second.

When Yukari confesses, Misaki not only quickly returns his feelings, but the two embrace, have their first kiss, and then start french kissing in the space of a couple of minutes. After watching the slow development of a first romance in Tsuki ga Kirei, this development is waaay too fast and unearned. I don’t know either of these jokers! They barely know each other! I’m usually the one who thinks it takes too long to get to first-name basis or hand-holding or kissing…but this didn’t take enough time by half.

As if that wasn’t enough ludicrousness, right in the middle of making out, Yukari gets his government notice, but his phone is on the fritz like a TV, and he thinks he sees Misaki’s name before it cuts out completely.  Moments later, government officials appear in the park, at midnight, to personally deliver Yukari’s notice, which does not name Misaki, but someone named Sanada Lilina.

Did they use his GPS to find him? Couldn’t it wait till morning? Would a system as strict as this really allow such loose language about never marrying in its schools, like the kind we heard earlier in the episode. Devastated by the fake-out, Yukari then finds himself having to chase a distraught Misaki, and because she’s not on the track team, he catches her and they embrace once more.

So there you go: really bizarre authoritarian breeding system in an otherwise normal Japanese society; forbidden love that’s extremely fast-paced in its development, leaving no room for suspension of disbelief…and REALLY BIG EYES. Interested? No lying!