Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 03

AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR. While I initially liked it when it was just Shirase and Mari, I quickly ended up liking the addition of Hinata, who while fiery and is no more effective at advancing the group’s Antarctic plans than the other two.

Now Shirase’s worst nightmare has come true: another high school girl—celebrity, aspiring idol, social media personality, and former child actress Shiraishi Yuzuki—has beaten her to the punch, as the group learns she’ll be joining the expedition.

And yet the universe isn’t done with Shirase yet, as she soars from the deepest valley to the highest peak when no less than Shiraishi Yuzuki herself shows up at her house, and willing to give up her seat to Shirase. Yuzuki has no interest in going; it’s too cold (lol duh).

Showing she can be just as energetic as the others, Shirase gets a bit too worked up and bangs her foot on the door. As if to further punish her for celebrating too soon, Yuzuki’s manager and mother (apparently in that order) Tamiko puts the kibosh on her client-daughter’s plans to shirk her duty.

Mari and Hinata try their best to sell Shirase to Tamiko, but while she’s gorgeous, Shirase is too shy when put on the spot to be of any interest to the hard-nosed manager, while neither Mari or Hinata are pretty enough. Harsh!

However, Shirase persists as she usually does, and enters into a contract with Tamiko: if she, Mari and Hinata can convince Yuzuki to go to Antarctica, they can come to. Bang, just like that, they’ve got their in.

Again, Shirase is so brimming with excitement and giddiness Hinata has to knock her on the head to calm her down (Hanazawa Kana puts on a clinic this week showing every side of Shirase, but Iguchi Yuka keeps up as Hinata, as does Minase Inori as Mari).

Once Mari heads home, we get what was somewhat lacking last week: some Shirase/Hinata-only interaction, and we see that they to have become fast friends as well. While Hinata and Mari feed of one anothers’ energy (and Mari admires Hinata’s relative maturity), Hinata interestingly serves as more of a straight man to Shirase’s antics.

She’s serves as an open ear to Shirase’s very earnest self-assessment. She knows she’s being selfish, but Hinata considers it assertiveness, not selfishness, and wouldn’t be hanging out if she wasn’t okay with it.

After not-so-slyly staging a “chance encounter” with Yuzuki, they join her at a family restaurant where there are free refills where she can study. There, the trio begins attempting to convince Yuzuki into changing her mind. She’s on to them immediately, but they still want to hear her out: why is she so adamant about not going?

Her reason, as it turns out, is all to understandable: she’s been acting since she was four years old, and has been kept busy since then. As a result, while she may have a stout 38,000 followers (far more than fair RABUJOI), she has zero friends. Even now, when she tries to make them, they’re more interested in glomming onto her celebrity and aren’t that intereted in who she is.

Yuzuki fears she’s running out of time to make good first impressions for potential friends, and if she goes to Antarctica, she’ll lose more precious time still. When Mari hears this story, she feels suddenly compelled to give Yuzuki a big ol’ hug…and who the hell can blame her?! Thankfully for Yuzuki, she has not one or two but three potential new friends sitting at that booth with her.

She’s initially skeptical these three “best friends” could possibly understand her situation, but that’s before they reveal they haven’t known each other that long at all…they’re “just trying to go to the same place.”

In the end, Shirase, Mari and Hinata didn’t have to use any clever tricks to get Yuzuki to reconsider her refusal. They merely had to show up and present themselves as who they really are: three girls who practically just met and want very much to go to Antarctica. Yuzuki could be the fourth.

Add to that the fact Yuzuki’s last potential friends at school seem ready to give up on her, and a bizarre dream in which Yuzuki is plucked from the window by the three girls on a ladder outside her hotel window (which I briefly thought was real—and rather shark-jumping!)

Yuzuki is charmed by the dream, but acknowledges that that was all it was; a fleeting expression of hope friends would come to her rather than laboring to seek them out.

But hey, the basic idea of her dream comes true anyway, with the trio appearing at her door (not her window, thank goodness) to make their final plea. Their timing is impeccable, and moves Yuzuki to tears of joy. She agrees to go, but only if Shirase, Mari, and Hinata can come as well.

The newly minted quartet then head to the Polar Science Museum in Tokyo (which I must visit next time I’m there).

Shirase gets hyped by the realistic penguin models, the four explore an old Snowcat, watch the aurora in the theater, and take a selfie together. Things are starting to feel real.

So, what’s up with the woman with the beauty spot in a “Challenge for Antarctic” car looking at that photo of Shirase and her Mom? She’s neither of the women who turned Shirase down in Kabukicho. Am I supposed to read her somewhat inscrutable expression as “grave” or “neutral”?

In any case, the band has been formed, and I couldn’t be happier. But something tells me things aren’t going to get easier just because they’ve got their tickets all but stamped. Four high school girls going to Antarctica will require, I imagine, a degree of training and preparation. Looking forward to those next steps and how the group responds to them.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 35

Thanks to the efforts of Kobuku, the bullying in Hina’s class has stopped. The ringleader Takagi and her five co-conspirators were exposed for all to see and made to apologize to the class for their actions. And yet Kobuku remains unconvinced that Takagi in particular shows any remorse for what she’s done.

In an interrogation-style scene, he tries to get past Takagi’s limp excuses (it’s society’s fault) and tries to get to the root of her trouble. Takagi is frustrated with always being told to study and work hard by people who won’t take responsibility if all that studying and working amounts to nothing.

But more importantly, as all those people were dishing out those platitudes, they never made any real effort to ask Takagi how she feels and what she wants. But now she has Koboku’s undivided attention; she no longer has any excuses.

Hollow apology or not, Hina is happy the darkness in her class has been expelled, even if she’s still terribly hurt by the effects of Takagi and her henchmen, especially where poor Sakura Chiho is concerned, which is why Hina is so overjoyed when she finally receives a letter from her.

In it, Chiho tells Hina that after initially being a bit lonely, she’s made friends and found peace at the remote farm surrounded by mountains and forests and full of animals and kind people. Tears well up in Hina’s eyes as she reads; tears of both enduring heartbreak of what went down in their class, and relief that Chiho is okay, and wants Hina to visit some time.

Rei, perhaps feeling like Hinata is slowly stealing his show (he’s not wrong!), shows up at the Kawamoto residence to find Hina lying supine and fast asleep in the sun. She has an etheral, almost angelic aura about her that makes him feel extra self-conscious about entering the room. So he waits in the genkan, only to be woken up by Hina.

She tells him, simply, that “it’s over”, and eagerly describes the day when her classmates cried and apologized to her, then invited her over to make cookies. These were the same classmates who, with the threat of retribution from Takagi and her ilk removed, finally felt safe enough to tell the teacher what happened and to talk with and hang out with Hina again.

When Hina opens her mouth wide to show Rei the burn caused by a fresh baked cookie, Rei decides to make this about himself: Woe is he, who wasn’t able to do anything to help Hina in her time of need. Oh wait, he didn’t do nothing in that time; he did a lot!

Hina sets him straight by listing everything he’s done for her, then doles out punishment in the form of several love bites. Then she starts to dance and twirl under his arm as they walk briskly beside the river, happy as you please. Which begs the question: Is Hina merely the best girl in the galaxy, or the entire universe? I’m gonna go with the latter.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 02

Mari’s seething wanderlust, as well as her determination not to waste what’s left of her high school youth, makes her extra susceptible to Shirase’s Antarctic plans. When Shirase tells her to get a part-time job at once, Mari is looking for ’em (interestingly, both of them come across the same sketchy job offer for “hospitality” work with guys).

Megumi thus plays the crucial role of managing Mari’s expectations. The expedition Shirase wants to join is in dire financial straits. The safety of those who join it is not guaranteed. They’re not simply going to let high school kids join them just because they really really want to.

When Megumi’s pragmatism slips into Mari’s interactions with Shirase, Shirase can smell the doubt and hesitation, and snaps at Mari, storming off. But Mari doesn’t doubt Shirase, and she does want to do it…she just wants to do it right. As Mari forlornly walks alone, it isn’t long before Shirase returns, realizing she was too harsh, but assuring Mari she does have a plan in place.

That same evening, Mari has a part-time job, at the local convenience store. There, she meets fellow 16-year-old Miyake Hinata (Iguchi Yuka, doing her Araragi Tsukihi voice), who shows an eager Mari the ropes.

The subject of The Trip comes up, and Hinata wants IN. Thankfully, Shirase isn’t particular about who else comes along, and so now the two are three. And while Hinata’s decision to join them seems abrupt (and it kinda is regardless), she’s a person who’s never liked blending in with the crowd, which is why she bypassed high school and is working towards college.

Her time working at the konbini also made her good at observing people, like the students of Mari and Shirase’s school, including the two of them. She always saw something different about them; something she calls “honesty”. Genuine-ness, earnesty, whatever you call it, she knew they were special, and wanted to be a part of what their noble undertaking.

Next stop: Shinjuku, and these three girls from Gunma stick out like a sore thumb-ma (sorry, that was really lame). The intense sights and sounds of the big city make all three a little crazy, but nobody more than Shirase, who reveals that her grand plan was to crash the Antarctic expedition meet-up (in Kabukicho of all places) by…seducing the guys.

The moment Shirase points her head up and tries to act like a “college student” like it’s no big deal, she’s immediately picked up by a guy, and becomes understandably flustered. She’s also adamant that she can’t be the one who attempts the seduction of the expedition team, because they know her.

So Shirase and Hinata shove Mari out, and her old-fashioned sexy pose utterly fails, they shove Shirase out. The people who know her spot her, and the chase is on. Why do the girls run? I’m not sure, but neither are they. Well, Shirase knows, because this isn’t the first time she’s tried to join the expedition.

But despite the fact Shirase’s plan is crumbling before our very eyes, the fact of the matter is that she, Mari, and Hinata are having a hell of a lot of fun running around Shinjuku…Youth In Motion. Unfortunately, none of the three (even Hinata, good in short-distance sprinting) can beat the stamina of their pursuers.

I love how I was just as taken in by the legitimacy and precision of her plan as Mari and Hinata, even with Megumi offering early words of caution. And yet, even with the adults here telling Shirase “this isn’t happening”, even when they refuse her part-time Antarctica fund…even if what she’s doing amounts to chasing her mother’s ghost, I’m still on Shirase’s side.

She has to go to Antarctica. She can’t not. What kind of show would this be if she failed? It’s just, she’s gone about it the wrong way. Seduction and bribes won’t be effective, but maybe something—or someone else will be. Someone like, say, the daughter of the wealthy-looking woman who was with the expedition team.

That girl happens to be on the same train as the other three girls, two of which—Hinata and Mari—vote to relieve Shirase of her leadership role. It’s for her own good. She’s been trying and failing to get on that ship her way for the better part of three years. Now it’s time to see if others have more luck.

Gorgeous, charming, emotionally satisfying, and brimming with the energy of determined youth, and the anticipation of adventure writ both small (Shinjuku) and large (further south), Yorimoi is a no-brainer Winter keeper.

3-gatsu no Lion – 34

Despite all of the good vibes sent Hina’s way by her sisters, her grandpa, and of courses, Rei, the bullying is still going on, and it has cast a pall of black, miasma-like mist over the entire classroom and school. Takagi Megumi won’t stop stirring the shit, and Hina won’t stop bravely confronting it head-on. Both can probably keep the battle going indefinitely, but their teacher has had enough.

This isn’t the first time her class has been thrown into shadow and chaos by one shit-stirrer and one defiant victim, and the stress that comes from her helplessness to ever resolve such situations, combined with the dread that comes with the certainty it will happen again, proves too much for the poor woman, who unleashes a desperate rant before passing out.

Now that Takagi has not only sent a victim off, but the supposed authority figure as well, one would think she’s “winning” this particular war. But whether she actually really wants this to go on or not, she seems almost as powerless to stop this as her victims. That makes whatever victory that might come feel not only hollow, but Pyrrhic.

This is some Scorched Earth-kinda shit going own, so who better to deal with averting apocalypse than Ikari Gendo himself? Just kidding; a 3GL-Eva crossover would be too weird (though not altogether unwelcome!) But the ruined teacher’s temporary replacement Mr. Kokobu is voiced by the same guy, doing a more causal performance more indicative of Zaraki Kenpachi.

Kokobu comes in not only knowing pretty much exactly what’s going on, but on whom to pin the blame. He laments that a class so close to high school entrance exams must be disrupted by a faculty shake-up, but also says, basically, “you little shits have no one to blame for not making a peep when one of their classmates had to change schools because of the bullying.”

And of course, he’s right. Takagi and Hina aren’t as powerful as a classroom united against bullying and conflict. But Takagi has spent so much time and effort neutralizing them with threats of retribution that they’ve kept quiet all this time. But it’s not like I expect the class to en masse decide to take a stand.

The overarching problem is that no one is in a situation they can control or pull themselves out of alone. It will take a unity of will and intent, and Kokobu likely hopes the unpleasantness of the situation to date will start bringing this mess to an end.

The last thing Hina wanted to do was bring her sister Akari into this, but that’s what has to happen, and Akari doesn’t shrink before the task at hand, nor does she hesitate to spoil Hina with some of her favorite foods (some kind of french toast drink and a beef croquette) on the eve of their parent-teacher conference.

Akari even fends off Grandpa, who has an important sweets order to take care of, so seriously does she take her promise to her dying mother that she’d take care of Hina and Momo. That she made this promise in her uniform, showing she’s still a child herself, makes it the dream much more heartbreaking.

It’s a dream that keeps Akari up late, so even if she had a particular game plan against the eventuality of encountering Takagi’s formidable mom in the hall (and she does not), she wouldn’t be at 100% to execute that plan.

Any thoughts of Takagi losing her hold on the class anytime soon are dashed when two of the classmates lure Mr. Kokobu away with a lie about a broken window, leaving the two students and their guardians alone together. Takagi’s mom immediately sets to work telling Akari to sort Hina out, and Akari falls all too easily into a trap where the mom asks her for proof of her daughter’s malfeasance, for which there is only Hina’s word.

Unaccustomed to such aggressive confrontation, overwhelmed by the promise she made to her mom, and fatigued from last night’s lack of sleep, Akari quickly falters, but before Mrs. Takagi can finish her, Kokobu returns, and it is Hina who takes Akari’s hand and sends her of to calm her down, not the other way around.

In this horribly shitty situation, Hina maintains her composure and is able to stand and endure the black mist. In the nurse’s office, she vows, like a shounen hero, that she’ll survive and graduate, she wins, so she’s not going to spend a second of her life worrying about the words and actions of c-words like Takagi again. Even if that’s better said than done, Akari is heartened.

Meanwhile, Kokobu calmly listens to Takagi’s Mom’s grievances, but cannot accept them without proof Hina is lying (which she obviously isn’t). The burden of proof both Takagi and her Mom were touting works both ways, and without the opportunity to pawn all the shit her daughter stirred up on to someone else, neither are ever going to be happy about the situation any more than Hina and Akari.

That means we have something of a stalemate.  Hopefully the escalation has been halted, the miasma somewhat cleared, and that with Kokobu’s guidance, the possibility of productive peace talks isn’t as remote as it once was.

3GL always seems to know when I’m hankering for a Kawamoto-heavy episode, and this one pretty one delivered everything I could have hoped for, with phenomenal performances by Kayano Ai and Hanazawa Kana and  a sweet guest appearance by the always authoritative Fumihiko Tachiki— (not to mention some nice work from Yuuki Aoi as Takagi).

The episode leans on the 3GL habit of using stark contrasts in light, dark, water, and color as the mood of the episode changes. We also get a new OP sung by Unison Square Garden and a sensational new ED featuring “I Am Standing” by Ruann. Forget March, it’s January that comes in like a lion with this, probably the best episode yet of 3GL’s second season.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 01 (First Impressions)

Tamaki Mari (voiced by a nicely toned-down Minase Inori) is restless. It’s her second year of high school and she hasn’t done anything to celebrate her youth. She sleeps in too late and keeps a messy room. One day, she decides no more—she’ll skip school, change out of her uni at the train station, go on a trip without a plan.

But the same thing befalls her that always befalls her when attempting to undertake bold endeavors: she chickens out at the last second, blaming the rain for squashing her Tokyo trip, along with the possibility of planes crashing or trains exploding.

In reality, the culprit was a simple and understandable fear of facing the unknown alone; fear of leaving one’s comfort zone and not being able to return. Her classmate and friend Megumi (Kanemoto Hisako) doesn’t think it’s necessarily a bad trait to have, but Mari hates that part of herself. She feels it’s stifling her youth.

Then something strange and auspicious and wonderful is set into motion when Mari sees a beautiful raven-haired girl wearing her school uniform running past her on the train platform. In her haste, the girl drops something: an envelope containing ONE MILLION YEN (about $8800).

The next day, Mari tells Megumi about the giant wad of cash and enlists her aid in locating the raven-haired maiden with the memorable conditioner. Mari spots her entering the bathroom, stuffing herself into a stall, bashing its walls, and quietly sobbing “one million…one million.”

When the girl (voiced by Hanazawa Kana) opens the stall door, Mari presents her with the cash, and after momentary suspicion, the girl has a paroxysm of relief and gratitude, embracing Mari like an old friend. Finding the cash was chance.

Returning every last Fukuzawa to their rightful owner was a choice, and it was the right one, for this strange, expressive girl, who Mari learns is named Kobuchizawa Shirase, is using the cash to do what Mari longs to do: go on a journey.

Shirase’s destination? Antarctica, to find her mother who went missing there after an expedition. Every single peer and adult to hears of her plans all believe the same thing: she’s off her rocker. She spends all non-school time working part-time and saving money instead of having fun with friends.

You could say Shirase is deferring her youth to a later time and a more incredible place (i.e. Antarctica). But girls at school call her “Antarctica”, and some even try to bully her into lending them some of her hard-earned savings.

Enter Mari, who saves Shirase from the bullies and offers her encouragement and excitement over the journey she’s about to undertake, and wants to help in any way she can. Shirase comes right out with it, asking Mari if she’d like to come along.

Mari very much wants to, and prepares to meet up with her at the station, where a train will take them to the icebreaker that will eventually take them to Antarctica, the titular “place further than the universe”, 14,000 km from Japan and the universe Mari knows.

This time, Mari doesn’t chicken out at the last second, and Shirase’s look of elation tells you everything you need to know about how many who claimed to support her backed out at the last second, as Mari was once wont to do. But Mari is committed, inspired as she is by the sheer audacity and dedication Shirase has exhibited. Very soon, they’ll be off, and from the look of the OP, they’ll be joined by two others.

This show was a pleasant surprise for me; I knew nothing but the one-sentence synopsis on MAL when checking it out…that and the fact it was a Madhouse show and that it’s absolutely stacked with voice talent.

Throughout the episode there’s the feeling of a great wave of adventure about to crest, or as Mari puts it, an isolated pool of seawater suddenly breaching and bursting forth, like her youth. As soon as we see the ship, things start to feel real.

Not only that, but both Mari and Shirase exhibit an infectious exuberance that really comes through in their diverse facial expressions and the always-welcome vocal chords of Hanazawa and Minase. I’m looking forward to watching their adventure unfold!

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!

The Garden of Words (Film Review)

Tokyo is one of the largest, busiest, most lively cities in the world, but there’s an oasis of tranquility right near its heart, and I’m not talking about the mostly off-limits Imperial Palace Grounds. I speak of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, once a private estate in the Edo period, and also the primary setting of Shinkai Makoto’s 2013 film The Garden of Words.

I’ll admit my review comes very late—so late, in fact, in the time between the release of the film and the day I’m writing a review of it, its co-lead Akizuki Takao would be 19 (not 15), making a potential romantic relationship with Yukino Yukari, who would be 31 (not 27) more socially acceptable. But here it is!

Akizuki loves rainy mornings. He loves them so much, he’ll skip school to visit Shinjuku Gyoen and enjoy it. One day, while preparing to sit at a sheltered bench overlooking the gardens, he encounters Yukino: a beautiful, mysterious woman in work clothes drinking beer and eating chocolate alone.

While 15, Akizuki is wiser and more mature than his years. He finds high school a major drag, and mostly stresses about a practical way to support himself doing what he loves: designing and making shoes. But when he visits the park and shares the bench with Yukino, he feels like he’s in a more mature environment, where he can sketch shoes or just shoot the breeze with her.

Their encounters also become important to Yukino, who we learn is preparing to quit her job, and is clearly in the park to escape said job and the stress/pain it causes, which was apparently bad enough that she lost her sense of taste for a time, only being able to enjoy beer and chocolate.

Not only is the hard-working Akizuki a shoemaker-in-the-making, he’s also a part-timer at a restaurant and cooks a lot at home, making him a better cook than Yukino. Thanks to the meals he shares, Yukino starts to enjoy eating again.

Wanting to help him with a woman’s shoe design, Yukino removes her shoe and lets Akizuki hold and measure her bare foot, in an intimate, even sensual scene that also happens to be practical.

That intimacy is heightened by the made-for-a-couple sheltered-bench and the gorgeous environs. But while she’ll give him her foot, Yukino never talks about herself, her life, or her struggles, no matter how much Akizuki talks about his.

Unfortunately Akizuki has to find that out when he spots Yukino, or rather Yukino-sensei, at his school—she’s a teacher there. He had no idea of that, or that she’d been taking days off because the boyfriend of a student fell for her which led to unsavory rumors about her being promiscuous and verbal and emotional abuse from her upperclassmen students.

Yukino is pained to hear all this treatment, and that she’s quitting because of it, but likely also hurt that Yukino never told him anything, or that she could even possibly have known he was a student at the school but kept him in the dark.

Whatever the case, he decides the injustice done to Yukino should have a response from someone who has come to care about her, so he confronts the upperclassmen, starts a fight, and loses. After school, they meet at the gardens, but he doesn’t tell her he fought to protect her honor.

After giving her the correct answer to her tanka poem from their first encounter, Akizuki and Yukino find themselves caught in a torrential downpour, and even when they get back under cover, they’re both soaked.

They apparently take it as a good omen, and go to Yukino’s apartment, where they change into dry clothes, and while he’s waiting for his uniform to dry, Akizuki makes Yukino a delicious meal, both noting they’re having some of the happiest moments of their lives, right there and then.

Like the sunlight, it doesn’t last, and as the sky darkens with more rainclouds, a sudden confession of love from Akizuki is countered by Yukino correcting him: “Yukino-sensei”. Akizuki hears her loud and clear: he’s a kid; she’s not, and that’s the end of it. So he changes into his still-wet clothes and storms off, just as the storm outside picks up.

Yukino doesn’t want to leave things there, so after stewing, suddenly alone in her apartment, with even Akizuki’s coffee still steaming, she does the romantic movie thing where one comes to their senses, rushes out of the house, and chases after the one they love.

When she finds him paused on a balcony, he takes back his confession and starts spewing vitriol about her intentions, but later in the rant it becomes more about why she couldn’t simply tell him, a stupid little kid, to piss off and stop bothering her. Why she never said anything to him while sharing that bench.

Yukino’s response, also classic romantic movie, is to run into his arms and sob just as the sun peeks back out from between the clouds, finally telling him why she went to that bench again and again, and how being with him helped her “learn how to walk on her own” again; how he essentially saved her.

Yukino still moves out of that apartment, back to her hometown, where she’s still a teacher. But she later writes to Akizuki, and as he reads the letter in the park where they met and spent so much time and where they taught each other how to walk, he seriously considers going to her hometown someday to see her.

The Garden of Words is gorgeous, as is expected of a Shinkai film, with its near-photorealistic exteriors, lived-in interiors, and fantastic lighting and details all around. At just 46 minutes, it runs brisk but never feels rushed, but rather feels just as long as it should be.

It also felt like a particularly intimate/personal film, though not for the reason you’d expect: I once sat at the exact same bench in Shinjuku Gyoen they sat at, unhurriedly sketching the gardens and writing about my day (though as you can see, the real one has an ashtray.) If you’re ever there I highly recommend it, just as I recommend this lush and moving little film.

Orange – 13 (Fin)

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Naho vows to give Kakeru chocolates on Valentine’s Day and make sure he knows her feelings, but even though her letters state all of the various opportunities, she still manages to blow by almost all of them without success, which is obviously done to heighten the tension. It works!

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But this isn’t like the squandered opportunities of the past. This is it, with just a day before he commits suicide in the original timeline. She has to get those damn chocolates to him, or at least make up with him. A particularly one-dimensionally evil Ueda Rio provides one last obstacle to Naho, but she doesn’t back down, and by the end of the episode’s first act, victory is hers. It’s a satisfying scene that cuts through a lot of the murk that had built up.

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With apologies, hugs, and tears thus shared, Naho and Kakeru are back to normal; no, better than ever, and all the happier for it. Kakeru even blurts out that he loves her, and she doesn’t blush and run off.

But the hour of his past death is still ahead of them, and the circle of friends remains concerned enough to consider either breaking his bike or waiting at the site of his once-and-hopefully-not-future demise.

Again, we see the future friends planning out the logistics and agreeing to send their letters to the past. Again, it seems a little odd to call so much attention to such a mysterious and hard-to-swallow process that is never fully explained anyway (because it’s time magic).

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In any case, because they’ve changed the future so much, the timing of Kakeru’s attempted suicide is altered somewhat, and because Hagita actually sabotages his bike, he’s on foot when a truck nearly hits him.

Kakeru is wandering the night wanting to die, just like last time, because of the power of the unsent text on his mom’s phone he found. But unlike last time, Naho and the others have had an equally powerful cumulative effect on him, to the point it doesn’t matter that they’re too late to stop him, because he stops himself. He doesn’t want to die after all.

From there, everyone runs to him, thinking he’s been hit but relieved to find he isn’t, and when they have to explain why they’re all there, they finally let him in on the future letters, even giving him letters from their once-but-no-longer selves. And there’s a big ol’ group hug, baaaaaaaw.

Those former selves are still chillin’ in the future, content that they did all they could to make Kakeru in an alternate world a better chance to stay alive, for the benefit of their alternate past and future selves. They created a new world, where Kakeru could live and be happily ever after.

 

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Parting thoughts: In its first three to seven weeks, Orange could almost do no wrong by me, so enthusiastic was I by a show that had the potential to be AnoHana or Toradora! quality, with Hanazawa Kana as its able lead.

But the show eventually regressed a bit as the angst was heightened, and my enthusiasm waned just when it was growing for those other shows. Orange could also be a little cheesy at times (I continue to have mixed feelings about the huge smiles of various characters),  and it never maintained the (in hindsight unreasonable) heights I envisioned for it, but it still really wowed and moved me for a solid half of its run.

I liked these earnest kids and their mission to save their friend, I’m glad they succeeded, and I look forward to the anime movie that continues the tale a little further.

Orange – 12

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This week we finally get glimpses of life from Kakeru’s perspective, both events Naho and the others weren’t present for, and in the re-telling of important moments we’ve already witness from the point of view of others. More importantly, we see the “initial” future that leads to his suicide. Here, Kakeru finally opens up, and it’s a dark, brooding place.

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Kakeru is clinically depressed, and can’t forgive himself for what he thought as sending his mom over the edge into suicide. It’s shocking to see him make an actual attempt, since it’s the realized fear of both us and Naho & co, who at the end of the day can only see a small part o Kakeru’s daily life, and only what he chooses to show them, which isn’t much.

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Even when he finds his mom’s old phone containing a lengthy apology for what she did to him and an explanation for her actions, he’s so stuck in his head on that bike ride he ends up getting killed, even if that wasn’t necessarily his desire at the time.

All the other events unfold as Naho’s letter said they would, bringing us to that sudden end. But the last thing he sees in his head is the face of Naho, whom he thinks would probably be sad if he were to die. But he can’t be sure, and in any case isn’t sure anything actually matters.

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That brings us back to the present of the “second” timeline, in which Naho and the others have worked so hard, unbeknownst to him, to keep him safe and happy. But like last time, the New Year’s fight with Naho is an open wound that’s hard to heal, even though Naho knows she must.

We check in on her alternate future self and the others deciding to send letters out to sea, hoping the black hole in the Bermuda Triangle will swallow them up and send them to the past.

This is…a pretty ridiculous plan; frankly I kinda wish they had kept the means by which they received the letters a mystery rather than try to clunkily lay out the practicalities of actually doing it. It’s enough that they wanted to reach out to their past selves to try to change things; I didn’t need the details.

In any case, Naho feels like she and Kakeru are drifting further and further away. The awkwardness and helplessness are palpable. So she goes for broke and asks that Kakeru wait until Valentine’s Day. She’s decided she’ll make her stand there. Whether it causes Kakeru to hate her or causes her pain is irrelevant. She’s not going to lose him again.

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