Wonder Egg Priority – 09 – Meringue

Wonder Egg Priority is back after an recap week, and everyone is wondering if Neiru is sick or something, because she’s inviting everyone to her place. The other three girls soon learn that her “place” isn’t remotely like any of theirs, and not because it’s a mansion.

In fact, Neiru seems to live at work. When the others arrive they sit in a theater and watch a video presentation of technology the Aonuma group is working on that can convert people’s dreams to video, enabling them to watch Neiru’s egg battle on the bridge.

The question rattling around everyone’s heads is “who is Neiru?” and her invitation to her home and workplace seem aimed at attempting to answer that question. Her assistant tells them she’s a literal genius and member of the Japanese branch of Plati, a MENSA-like genius organization.

We also learn that Neiru doesn’t know her parents because as far as she’s concerned, she doesn’t have any. She was born via artificial insemination of a member; a planned pairing with no emotional connection between the egg and sperm donors. Is it any wonder she’s such a logical person, in addition to being a genius?

The girls take an elevator to level B9 (presumably deep underground) where Neiru takes them to her habitation area, which is full of books and strewn with papers. There, Momo breaks out the takoyaki grill, and after they eat, she and Rika paint Momo and Neiru’s nails, with everyone getting the same purple accent on one finger so they match.

Momo is very skilled at painting nails, which leads to discussion of everyone’s futures. Momo wants to be a dietician; Rika wants to live abroad and marry a foreigner; Ai wants to try living alone. When they turn to Neiru, she changes the subject, and then leads them behind a curtain to show them the reason she invited them.

In the next room is a capsule containing a an albino girl. She’s Kotobuki Awano who like Neiru was a genius born at Japan Plati. She became a doctor of psychiatry, and in order to attempt to analyze “the mysteries of life” she conducted near-death experiences on herself. After one of these, she didn’t come back, leading to her present persistent vegetative state.

Neiru reunites with Kotobuki in an Egg Dream, on the bridge, when she’s being pursued by a Wonder Killer based upon a jealous rival scientist whose job he believes she stole. Neiru just wants to know why Kotobuki didn’t come back, and her friend’s response is poetic: it’s said you see a field of flowers in the moment before death; she wanted to pick one and bring it back to her.

Kotobuki levels with Neiru: the her in the normal world is already dead; her body is simply a container. But in exchange, she was able to confirm that parallel worlds do exist, like the ones in the fantasy stories she loved. She likens what happened to her as having her mind and body abducted by “innocent sorrow”.

Neiru is determined to go to the place where Kotobuki died and bring her statue back to life, but she’s not listening. Kotobuki died in an abstract place Neiru cannot go. Meanwhile, the government will soon come for her physical body, and she “doesn’t want adults touching it.” So she’s asking Neiru to do the thing she can’t do herself, now that her body and soul are separate: disconnect the life support.

Neiru really doesn’t want to do this, but Kotobuki says it will be fine; after all, Neiru made new friends, and she can tell they’ve already “softened” her a bit. Kotobuki wants Neiru to enjoy her life with those girls, while she’ll befriend them in another “world-line”.

Their talk is interrupted by the Wonder Killer, Dr. Seki, who’d always wanted to dissect Kotobuki, underscoring the importance of keeping her body out of adult hands. When he nabs Kotobuki, Neiru powers up her weapon and uses it to fly to where Kotobuki is and snatch her. Then Seki gives them a math question of all things that turns out to be a trick question.

After that, Kotobuki bids Neiru farewell, asking her to take care of her body in reality, and Neiru agrees. We pull back and see that Neiru’s assistant is watching the video of Neiru’s dream. Back in the present, as Neiru prepares to switch off Kotobuki’s respirator, she gets strong pushback from both Rika and Momoe, who think it’s “too much” to kill a person in the real world.

Neiru maintains her logical perspective, which is that Kotobuki is already effectively dead, and when Momoe pushes back by saying that as her friends they’re worried about the trauma or baggage she might incur. Neiru says she won’t get “sentimental” about stopping “a dead person’s respiration”.

At an impasse, Rika and Momoe storm out.  Ai, stuffing her face in her hood, follows them at first, then turns back. Momoe and Rika agree that perhaps Ai can get through to Neiru on her own, since she’s closest to her of the three of them.

Then Momoe and Rika walk in on a conversation between the Accas and Neiru’s assistant discussing how Neiru has gotten closest to “the truth behind the temptation of death,” and how they are the “root cause” of why they’re fighting. It’s not as if didn’t think the Accas were up to something underhanded, but it’s particularly chilling to hear them discuss it openly.

When Ai returns to Neiru, she’s sitting in the dark with a compact planetarium projecting stars on the walls and her body. Ai, armed with ample emotional intelligence in this instance, says she’s not there to convince Neiru to do or not do anything. She’s there to hear more about Kotobuki. Neiru says she didn’t want adults to touch her; Ai says if only she’d said that, Momoe and Rika would have better understood her.

Ai then recalls when she and Koito tried fortune-telling using Kokkuri. They asked if Koito’s crush (whom Ai assumed to be Sawaki-sensei) liked her back, and the coin said yes. Ai didn’t think she’d moved the coin, but when she saw how happy Koito looked, she couldn’t have moved it either. Ai wonders if she actually did move it without knowing to make her friend happy. That, she says, is fantasy.

Ai applies that same principle to Kotobuki’s life support system. She brings her finger right beside Neiru’s on the Shutdown button—their purple nails matching—and the button is pressed like the coin was moved: by one of them, by both of them…and by neither of them. Kotobuki in voiceover then recites famous quote by Baudelaire:

“It is the hour to be drunken! To escape being the martyred slaves of time, be ceaselessly drunk. On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish.”

Kotobuki Awano’s death wasn’t the result of contempt for her life or a desire to end it, but pursuit of the ultimate truth for which all people of science strive. She escaped her physical bonds and the yoke of the waking world, freeing herself to explore other worlds.

That said, Kotobuki was still sentimental about and protective of her physical body, and while she knew it was selfish and painful to ask her friend to stop that empty body’s functions, she also knew Neiru would do what she asked, then go on living and getting “ceaselessly drunk” on the enjoyment of that life with Ai, Rika, and Momoe.

Wonder Egg Priority – 07 – Oyakodon (Parent-Child Bowl)

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”—The Dread Pirate Roberts

It’s Rika’s birthday. On one level, that’s a good thing: a cause to celebrate with her new friends, while also celebrating Ai’s retirement from shut-in-dom. Ai describes her sudden change of heart as having realized beating herself up at home wouldn’t solve anything.

On another level, Rika’s birthday also a reminder that she is one year older, one year closer to possibly becoming her lonely, alcoholic mom, and no closer to learning who her father was. Her mom agreed to tell her when she got into middle school, but she doesn’t know herself, and gives her five possible candidates. It could be one of them or none of them.

It’s instructive that Rika lives above a bar her mom owns. That bar has not only been the place where her mom no doubt met these many men over the years to try to quell her loneliness (and drown it in booze when she failed) but before Rika could enter her home she always had to walk past a gauntlet of drunk men.

Rika takes her birthday celebration as a chance to air some grievances, albeit with her usual irreverent tone that implies she doesn’t care. In truth, meeting her real dad is almost all she cares about. She believes her mother never wants her to meet him, since they might get along.

She calls her mom a “tragic heroine with a persecution complex” who has never apologized for anything and has nothing but her own pride. She thinks her mom believes she could have been happy if only she didn’t have her. Neiru, ever calm and logical and correct, asks rather tactlessly if Rika hates her mom too, and if “that’s what they call co-dependence.”

This angers Rika, who storms off, but she fully expects Ai to chase her, and she does. Ai is ready to continue the mom-insulting session, calling the two of them the “Single-Mother Girls”. As they wander the abandoned entertainment center and Rika swings and misses at the batting cages, “Serious Rika” comes out of her shell to talk about all the bad stuff that she remembered at once. As Ai listens, Rika wonders what the hell is even up with adults, who presumably bang and marry because they like it, yet end up like her mom.

Neiru and Momoe are worried about Rika, but when they hear her yell they’re confident she’s okay. Neiru wonders whether she’s too honest and direct for “female society”, but Momoe tells her she’s fine that way, as she hates when everyone pretends to agree. Neiru cops to being a straight-up orphan who never knew either parent, and notes it seems to have spared her “a lot of trouble.”

On the rooftop, Rika asks Ai about her dad, who she sees at least once a month, and thus is still her daddy even though her parents broke up. Rika can’t even remember her dad’s face—only his gentle voice when he once told her “a beautiful woman never needs a wallet.” After shedding a few tears of frustration from wanting to see him and not being able to, Rika declares “Moping Time” over and takes off.

The episode then shifts between Rika’s latest Wonder Egg battle and the battle she fights every day by having to cross a gauntlet of drunk men and her mom to gain access to her home. This Egg Girl and her family were members of a suicide cult, but still loves her Wonder Killer and wants Rika to join them in cosmic bliss.

She gives Rika the hard sell, telling her how her family was cursed by karma from their past lives, so they abandoned their attachments to the physical world. The Wonder Killer, whom the girl calls “the teacher”, talks of a flawed world “fixated on worthless appearances and hierarchies” in which the haves grow arrogant and the have-nots envious.

Once up in her dark room, Rika pulls out her box-cutter and draws it close to her arm. In the battle, the Egg Girl notices the sleeve on Rika’s arm covering her scars and tells her to “erase herself”, revealing more of the same scars on her own arm as a show of solidarity. The Egg Girl was once like her, hating, envying, and drowning in pain and despair, before becoming one with the teacher and becoming part of a “vast energy.”

Normally Rika might not be so easily taken in by this new age gobbledygook from the child of parents who bought into what someone was selling, but it’s her birthday, and “all the bad stuff” is still foremost on her mind. The pain of still not knowing her dad, the fear of becoming just like her mom; they weigh on her, and the Egg Girl and teacher’s offer to “erase her karma” sounds like a good one in the there and then.

In this psychologically vulnerable state, the Egg Girl and Wonder Killer are tag teaming her towards her doom. Aca and Ura-Aca even worry that they could lose her. Ai, Momoe and Neiru, sensing she’s in trouble, use their pendants to snap Rika out of it, but their voices fade out as the Wonder Killer tells her to relax and surrender herself to his “hug of life.”

The only thing that saves Rika from oblivion is the fact she too is a mother; a fact she’d forgotten in the haze of the cult proselytization. Her turtle guardian-child, Mannen, grows to full size and blocks the Killer’s hug, saving Rika. She realizes because he imprinted on her, he thinks she’s his mom, and that she almost turned into a “selfish, piece-of-shit” mother by giving up and abandoning her child.

Declaring death to all fake men who ask women for money, and partners with Mannen to give the teacher the “slice of death.” The Egg Girl is devastated, asking why Rika, who like her cut her own arm to endure the pain of life, turned down a chance at sweet release. But Rika wasn’t buying what the teacher was selling. Dying isn’t the answer; not for her. Even if it means hurting herself, she’s going to live.

Rika reunites with her extremely worried and relieved friends. Neiru doesn’t join in the group hug but makes it clear she’s glad Rika is okay. Later that night Rika goes downstairs, after the bar has closed, where her mom is where she always is, drinking herself to sleep. Rika takes the cake out of the fridge and has a bite, confirming her mom’s worry the cream has dried out.

Her mom laments having gotten “old” before she knew it. Rika points out she’s only 40, and her mom corrects her; she’s 38. She says she’s sure Rika will abandon her, too. Rika concurs, but after a pause, sais “…but not now.”

* * * * *

This episode shines as a heartwrenchingly sober examination of the duality of parents and children as both curse and blessing to one another, how they hate, blame, and envy or resent one another, and how society only seems to make things worse. And yet, life and all its pain is presented as preferable to the bleak, defeatist alternative rapacious charlatans have offered since time immemorial.

Rika may not know how to win, if winning is possible, or even what victory looks like in this painful, fucked-up world. But no matter how many cuts she receives—by her own hand or otherwise—or batting cage balls she swings through, one thing she won’t do is stop playing. If she does, she knows she’ll lose, and she wouldn’t be the only one losing.

If this is all feels a bit heavy and complex for a cold cloudy Tuesday afternoon…well, I can’t blame you. I’m just glad a show like this exists, frankly presenting such ideas about these girls’ lives juxtaposed with the mundane heartaching beauty of the world in which it’s lived. It’s the kind of breathless ambition and thematic richness all too many anime would rather not adopt, instead pursuing the easy buck and assured popularity.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s a time and a place for that stuff too!—but it’s shows like Wonder Egg Priority that confirm that murmurs regarding the decline of anime are grossly exaggerated. This isn’t just the best anime on the air. It’s the best television show, period.

Wonder Egg Priority – 06 – Omelette Rice

Now that each girl and the group as a whole have had their spotlight episodes, it’s time to return to Ohto Ai’s story. While she’s exhausted and sore from her last battle, Ai’s mom insists she get out of bed for breakfast. Her mom also made her omelette rice for lunch and they’ll be having sukiyaki for supper. Ai notes that they usually only have sukiyaki on special occasions. Then her mom asks if she’ll have a “proper talk” with Mr. Sawaki today.

When Ai joins the others, it’s clear she’s in a mood. First of all, she’s skipping emphatically, then starts kicking a traffic cone around and then a sandwich board that she accidentally shatters. The other three are understandably curious what caused this change in her. The four visit the Accas, who inform them of a new threat: Haters, who disguise themselves as Seeno Evils but are far more powerful.

Haters are the result of the four girls “standing out” by their protecting the egg girls. “Those who stand out pay for it”, Acca says, reminding me of how conformity was also the best defense in Ikuhara’s Yuri Kuma Arashi. They present the girls with a different kind of defense: cute pendants that awaken when spoken to in Latin and imprint upon their owners.

Each girl finds somewhere private to awaken their “Pomanders”. Neiru’s is a snake, Rika’s a turtle, Momo’s is an alligator, and Ai’s is a chameleon. While envy and spite birth the Haters that attack Ai and her latest egg girl, those same qualities are like “bread and butter” to her Pomander, who proceeds to gobble one up. As a big fan of beast-taming in FFXIII-2, I like the extra boost they provide to Ai as the difficulty level increases.

In life, Yoshida Yae could see dead people and “strong grudges” no one else could. Because only she could, no one believed her, and she was eventually committed. The facility was full of the very thing only Yae could see, which do doubt led to her suicide. Ai tries to keep her safe by hiding her, but this time the Wonder Killer itself is invisible.

While it’s a little confusing at first, it becomes apparent that Ai’s defense of Yae and battle against an invisible foe comes after the “special occasion” for which her mom is making sukiyaki: Mr. Sawaki is joining them for dinner…and not to talk about school. While the sukiyaki is a clue, it still feels like an ambush, especially when Ai is still drying her hair from a bath when he basically invades her safe space.

Ai’s mom and Sawaki aren’t done with the surprises, as they announce to her their intention to start dating, if it’s okay with her. YIKES. Look, I get it, her mom is divorced and ready to find love again, and Sawaki seems on the surface to be a kind and decent guy. But your daughter’s teacher, who was a major presence in both her and her only friend’s lives prior to Koito’s sudden suicide?

The cynic, i.e. the Rika in me smells something rotten in the state of Denmark. Just as she supposed Ai’s mom used Ai’s need for counseling as an excuse to make Sawaki’s visits a regular occurance, leading to their growing closer, Rika has even darker concerns based on her own mother’s relationships. In her experience, live-in boyfriends always abuse their girlfriend’s kids—violently if it’s a son, sexually if it’s a daughter.

When Ai tells the other girls about this, Momoe is giddily over the moon, as it could mean she and Ai could be family someday. She does not take Rika’s aspersion casting well, and not just because Rika makes a distinction between how a boy or girl would be abused. Momo trusts her uncle, and believes Rika is letting her perspective curdle Ai’s. For him to use Ai’s mom as a decoy to get to Ai…she just can’t believe he’d be that way.

And yet…sometimes it’s the closest friends and family members who have a blind spot where their loved one is concerned—just ask anyone who was close to someone who has been #MeToo’d in the last few years. “[What they are alleged to have done] isn’t them” is a common refrain. The bottom line is, Ai seems most troubled by the fact she still doesn’t know what caused Koito’s suicide, and as long as the mystery remains unresolved, Ai will understandably feel uneasy.

And then there’s Neiru’s input, which is to draw in so close to Ai she can’t hide her face. She brings up Occam’s Razor—the simplest theory is the best—and wonders if the bottom line is that Ai likes Mr. Sawaki. From where they each stand, Momoe, Rika, and Neiru all have valid reasons for how they feel about Ai’s predicament. There simply isn’t enough information for anyone to be proven right or wrong.

All that is certain is that the uncertainty is extremely frustrating for Ai, so much so that after getting beaten by Yae’s invisible Wonder Killer, and Yae tosses her prayer beads that enable Ai to see it, Ai wastes no time taking out those frustrations on the Killer, kicking and smashing it into oblivion.

Before Yae also vanishes, she gets to experience the release and relief of having Ai embrace her and tell her in no uncertain terms that she believes her. For Yae, Ai was the only one. Upon returning home, she decides to name her new chameleon buddy Leon. It’s a bit obvious, but it feels right.

The next day, it pours. Ai’s mom comes home while she’s still in the bad, and scolds her for leaving her dirty clothes out. When she says she’ll turn out the pockets before putting them through the wash, Ai bursts out of the bath without drying off, dresses herself, and runs out the door into the torrential rain. When her mom asks where she’s going, she defiantly yells “SCHOOL!”

Ai keeps running, and by the time she reaches her school, the rain has let up and the sky has become clear and beautiful. She spots Mr. Sawaki as two other schoolgirls are saying goodbye to him. She runs up to him takes hold of his arm, and catches her breath. It looks for all the world like she’s about to confess her love, but she doesn’t. Instead, she brightly declares that she’s going to start going to school again, purposefully brushing the hair out of her face to reveal her blue eye.

Ai doesn’t give Sawaki an answer about whether its okay for him to date her mom. She also doesn’t have any satisfying answers about Koito; at least not yet. Depsite all that, she’s emerged from her cocoon after a lengthy hibernation, and to give ordinary school life another go. Not for Koito, not for her mom, and not for Mr. Sawaki…but for herself.

Perhaps she was “egged on” (I’m so sorry) by her mom and Mr. Sawaki’s announcement, but defending all the egg girls and hearing their stories, as well as those of her fellow egg defenders, and even Leon helped her put her own situation into relief.

Avoiding school hasn’t brought her all the answers she’s sought since losing Koito. Maybe by returning to school they’ll reveal themselves…or maybe not! Either way, she’s moving forward with her her life. I just hope she didn’t catch a cold running forward through all that rain!

Wonder Egg Priority – 05 – Scrambled

We hadn’t been privy to Aonuma Neiru’s Egg missions until this week; only the interludes between recovering from battles and purchasing new Eggs to protect. Her dream-battlefield is a majestic suspension bridge with a huge city nightscape as the backdrop; as bold and dramatic as Neiru herself is modest and unflappable.

Her egg this time is a runaway dealing with an abused, but Neiru has it covered, darting around the bridge like she’s in FLCL and defeating it with her compass-turned-gun with action movie fluorish, complete with the catchphrase “I’m going to blow your mind.” She means the words literally.

The runaway thanks her savior, but Neiru remains businesslike and aloof. She’s not doing this for her. She’s merely completing objectives, like a good operative. In a thematic transition only a eclectic show like WEP can pull off, we shift to real life, with Ai welcoming Neiru, Rika, and Momoe to her home.

Ai can’t contain how happy she is to have friends over, and neither can her adorable mom, who recognizes Momoe as Sawaki-sensei’s niece. Ai mentions that Koito seemed to have a thing for Sawaki. Rika, in true Rika form, stirs up a conspiracy that’s plausible enough to give Ai pause: What if Koito was dating Sawaki? What if she got pregnant? What if Sawaki only visits Ai regularly because he suspects she has proof of the affair?

The talk of Koito and Sawaki leads Ai to remember when Sawaki was sketching her for a portrait as his means of entry to a life of painting. In the memories Koito seems to be projecting envy in the way she tells Ai that if her heart isn’t in being Sawaki’s subject, she’d better bow out, as his “future is on the line”…as if an adult man’s future should be anyone’s responsibility but his own!

The messy can of worms Rika opens and stirs threatens to curdle the vibe of Ai’s friends’ visit. It also reinforces the fact that a great deal of mystery surrounds Koito’s death. When Rika asks why she doesn’t just ask her mom, who seems to be close to Sawaki, Ai voices her reluctance to make her mom worry more than she clearly already is about her string of recent unexplained injuries, which…fair enough!

Rika gets that. So do the other girls. No matter how nice and understanding her mom is, nothing good can come of Ai telling her she sneaks out at night to fight monsters in her sleep on behalf of youth suicides…it will only worry her more! That’s what re-knits the tentative bonds Rika’s speculation briefly frayed and lightens a conversation that had turned dark: the four of them can’t tell anyone.

It’s their story that no one else knows about. While before they were toiling alone, not even sure what the fuck was going on, now they have context through each others’ shared burden. They are seen by one another; they recognize the pain, guilt, and curiosity in one another. Then Rika and Ai compare mothers: Rika took one look after being born and thought “this lady wants to stay a woman her whole life and never be a parent.” Ai wonders if her perfect, imminently capable mom drove her dad away.

There’s an excellent exchange in which Rika looks Neiru’s way after stating that capable women can spoil men, both because she sees Neiru as capable, and because it’s her turn. They’re playing Jenga, and the way Rika steers the convo throughout makes the group dynamic almost feel like a Jenga game in and of itself: gradually removing blocks while maintaining integrity. In a similar fashion, Rika pounces on Neiru and tickles her. She doesn’t get the right spot at first, but when she finds it, Neiru can’t help but burst into laughter, while Ai and Momoe note how well the two opposites get along.

We can’t be sure if her battles on the bridge take place before or after the friends meet at Ai’s, but her latest egg is a real piece of work, criticizing Neiru’s hair while going off unbidden about the ephemeral nature of a girl’s beauty, and how dying while at one’s most beautiful is preferable to becoming an “ugly hag” in a pointless adult life.

The four girls meet up and break into a shuttered bowling alley and arcade. Acca tells them to get out of there and buy some damned eggs already, but they push back, declaring what they’re doing to be necessary “group therapy”. Ura-Acca lets them have a little fun, declaring that “soldiers” need R&R.

For a few blissful hours, four girls who have been battling monsters in their dreams get to live their lives as ordinary girls. Momoe talks about how at least six people have confessed to her—all girls—but only Haruka saw her as a girl. Remembering how she handled Haruka stripping before her, she wonders if she could have done things differently.

While Rika and Ai are off playing a different game, Momoe and Neiru have a chat while playing a racing game. Neiru points out that Momoe doesn’t necessarily hate being popular, even with girls. Neiru concedes that, adding that “sometimes you end up enjoying something even though you didn’t mean to.” That’s something Neiru needs to hear, especially as she’s enjoying hanging out with the others despite herself.

Later, in Acca and Ura-Acca’s garden, the four exchange contact info for future hangouts together, and Rika lies on her back, looks up at the sky, and asks a very fair question: Why don’t they stop buying eggs? Rika admits she got caught up in her mission, but at the end of the day Chiemi “died on her own”, and dying isn’t “playing fair”, so why should she bear responsibility? She asks the same questions of Ai, as Koito died without ever talking to her, and may not even want to come back to life.

What if their egg-protecting missions led to them meeting each other in real life, and now that they have new friends, they can ditch the eggs and dreams, move forward together, and live their lives? Again, this is all fair, and I’m glad Rika goes with her instinct to probe and prod and bring up hard truths regardless of how she’ll be seen by the group. It means she feels safe enough with them to to do.

The problem is, this isn’t just about bringing their respective friends back to life. That was never the case with Neiru, because her statue is of her sister. Her sister ran away and jumped off a bridge, but only after stabbing Neiru in the back, quite literally. To this day, the scar aches and keeps her awake, especially when she tries to forget her. It’s like a curse she’s trying to exorcise from her body. As she tells the eggs she protects, she’s not doing it for them…she’s doing it for herself.

In a similar way, Ai’s desire to keep going isn’t only couched in saving Koito or righting any wrong she might have done. It’s to crack the mystery; to feed her insatiable curiosity, like a splinter in her brain that won’t let up until she has the answers. As Ura-Acca puts it to the stricter Acca, the girls are in a state of teenage rebellion: they’ll stop if told not to stop, and will keep pushing boundaries to build up their own identities.

Back in the battle protecting the girl obsessed with the pure, inimitable beauty of youth, Neiru realizes the three pompom-like monsters aren’t the Wonder Killer’s true form, it’s the girl’s hair. After shooting it, Neiru notes that her sister (whose statue stands on the edge of the bridge) “tempted” her to die by stabbing her, before ending her own life.

Was her sister’s rejection of reaching adulthood an ultimate act of rebellion against What Is and What Should Be? As with Ai’s inquiries into Koito, it’s a question that may only be answered if they keep fighting—egged on by the Accas all the way. I just hope that the fact the four girls are not alone in this business will make their struggles a little easier to bear.

Adachi & Shimamura – 12 (Fin) – Having a Wuvly Time

When Adachi learns Hino and Nagafugi not only spent the night together, but bathed together before school, she decides she can’t fall behind; she must be bold and decisive in asking Shimamura for the same opportunity.

Shima, ever bemused and practical, notes that her family’s bathtub is tiny, but Adachi still gets a win: Shima lets her stay for the whole weekend. Adachi can barely restrain her pure joy over this development. She over-packs to a ridiculous degree and ends up arriving way earlier than expected.

While at Shimamura’s, Adachi naturally feels closer to her friend, as she hoped to become. She gets to sit between Shima’s legs again, only instead of Adachi running away, Shima’s little sister (also named Sakura) takes her sister away for a rare bath together.

The first day Adachi says “nothing happens” with Shima, but at the same time, doing nothing with the one you cherish is pretty nice in and of itself! Shima also surprises her one day with matching hairclips, which make Adachi so happy she almost blurts out “I love you!”—until twisting it into “You look wuvly!”

Honestly, even if Adachi said those three words to Shimamura, it probably wouldn’t change things dramatically. She has Shima now, and while it may be a fight to keep her, we know from Shima’s perspective that she likes having Adachi around, later likening her to a cherry blossom she can look upon even when it’s not Spring and the trees aren’t in bloom.

Adachi gets to fall asleep on Shima’s arm, they go to school together for the first time, and Adachi’s prayers for them to sit together aren’t answered, they remain about the same distance from each other in the classroom, so that’s a wash.

As with IWGP, A&S takes a “Life Goes On” approach with its ending. Adachi doesn’t ever confess to Shimamura, and they never end up kissing. They’re still not even on a first-name basis. But forget those standard signposts; this show had a more nuanced, delicate touch. It was a pleasant, cozy portrait of two people who take great comfort in one another and are happier around each other than not, whether they’re doing something or nothing at all.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Adachi & Shimamura – 11 – Desiring the Future

Back when Shimamura was in P.E. and suspected Adachi was on the second floor, but didn’t go up to see her, Adachi was indeed on the second floor, and didn’t expect her to come up and see her. For a couple moments she thinks she might be proven wrong, but it’s not Shimamura, just a third-year (whom I believe is a Hanazawa Kana voice cameo) looking for a quiet spot to read.

Ever since their second year began, Adachi has witnessed Shima easily find new friends, and can’t discern between her smiles and laughs with them and those with her. She gets the (wrong) impression Shima doesn’t care about her, yet can’t help but bike to the mall where they made happy memories, or think of which puppy she’d like best.

That’s when Adachi and Tarumi bump into each other, unaware of their connection with Shimamura, and Adachi notices Tarumi dropped her strap. Like Tarumi, Adachi thinks it would be just the tops if she and Shima had matching straps. But when spotting a lonely but quiet puppy, Adachi realizes she’s looking at a mirror.

That attitude is nurtured by a very random and fortune-teller, who looks and talks as eccentrically as Adachi is normal. Her advice is solid: the future can’t really be told, it must be desired, which means no running away from what is needed to achieve them. She has nothing to say to Adachi that she doesn’t already know, she just needs a little push to be more assertive in seeking Shima’s attention.

That brings us to a shift in POV to Shimamura, picking up from last week with her “Finally, it’s Adachi” remark. Having not heard her voice since the term began, Shima seems surprised how much she welcomes Adachi’s voice. This new assertive Adachi sits on the same chair as her and shares yummy bread, and Shima just knows that as her fake friends fade, Adachi will keep burning bright.

Shima sees all of Adachi’s moves as a sign her friend has made up her mind that she is the only one she needs. But is the reverse true? Shima can see Adachi has the same interest in straps and need to hold her hand (albeit her other hand) as Tarumi. She envisions her hands being held by the other two, all three of them with straps, in a Shima sandwich.

But only Adachi takes Shimamura aside, draws her into a big hug, and exclaims “I think you’re the best!” and plans to call Shima at 7 PM. She doesn’t stick around long enough for Shima to tell her that’s her usual time, so Shima arranges to eat dinner early, knowing full well Adachi will call her at 7 PM on the dot.

Adachi doesn’t call to say anything specific, she mostly likes the feeling of having Shima all to herself while on the phone. Shima calls her possessive, but Adachi thinks it’s normal, and it is normal, for someone who has feelings for someone and has decided not to run away or equivocate any longer.

Shima admits it’s “not a bad feeling” knowing someone cares about her, and is caught off guard by Adachi’s over-the-phone tears. Still, with Adachi, Shima feels her “possibilities are fixed.” If, not when, she were to choose someone to walk beside, it would be whoever is “best for her”.

While Adachi opened this episode believing she wouldn’t officially graduate to her second year until she confronted Shima, she’s actually well ahead of Shima in terms of knowing exactly what’s best for her and what she wants.

Shima isn’t sure about either, and weary of “surrendering” to Adachi’s puppy-like whims. How can Shima know she’s choosing someone who has already so heartily chosen her? I certainly don’t know, but at the end of the day (and hopefully by the end of this series!), Shima needs to learn what kind of future she desires.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Adachi & Shimamura – 10 – Finally Adachi

The opening scene is filled with drama and suspense as Adachi prays to be in the same class as Shimamura. Her prayers are answered, and she’s not shy about celebrating it, much to the amusement of Shima, who is sporting a new look with her natural darker hair color. Obviously, the change hasn’t lessoned Adachi’s adoration of her in the slightest.

Shimamura even tests out calling Adachi “Sakura-chan”, predictably turning Adachi into one happy puppy. These two seem locked in, until three new “artificial friends” are drawn into Shima’s orbit, replacing Hino and Nagafuji. They eat lunch and chat together, and even though Shima doesn’t particularly enjoy it, she lets it happen, while Adachi…just kinda runs off.

There’s a lot to read into Shimamura and Adachi’s passivity this week, which starts with Adachi’s hope they’d remain in the same class. She’s not sure Shima would actively seek her out if they were in different classes, and sure enough, Shima admits she wasn’t close enough to Hino or Nagafuji to do that for them.

It’s not abundantly clear what’s up with Adachi, since after that first scene when she learns they’ll be together, we don’t get any more time inside her head. I for one buy that she’s just giving Shima some space, worried about being too possessive or clingy could make things awkward. Of course, her absence from class and from most of the remainder of the episode is its own awkwardness.

While Shimamura doesn’t check to see if Adachi retreated to the second floor of the gym, she also feels her absence when Tarumi calls her, requesting another hang-out. After their last “date” tanked, Tarumi has gone to lengths to rehabilitate her attitude to something more brash, bubbly, and fun. Not only does it come off as extremely forced, but Shima can’t help but not really pick up anything Tarumi puts down. She nods, smiles, and thinks about Adachi instead.

By the end of their second “date”, Tarumi expresses her desire to be full-fledged friends with Shimamura again, like they were as tykes. As with all of her requests to that point, Shima assents, but Tarumi finds it hard to read her vague expressions. They part when Yashiro appears, and when Shima asks herself “Who even am I?” Yashiro replies “You’re just you.”

Nice words, but frankly I still fail to grasp the reason for Yashiro popping in and out of this show at all, just as I continue to wonder why we peek in on Hino and Nagafuji’s long friendship seemingly growing more and more amorous, but only to the point of plausible deniability. If Shimamura ditched these two, why does the show keep checking in on them?

Is it to compare them with the much newer and very different pairing of our two leads? Our two leads were mostly apart this week, while Hino and Nagafuji continue to be stuck like glue. But absence clearly makes the heart grow fonder, as when it comes to Shima having her name called in class, only Adachi will do.

She seems relieved that Adachi finally approached her after she’d descended into a monotonous second-year existence of having lunch with her fake friends and not listening to them prattle on. Adachi worries Shima “doesn’t need her that badly”. But watching Shima’s potential new friends swing and miss, it’s clear at the very least that she prefers Adachi over others. By Shima’s standards, that’s a big deal.

Adachi & Shimamura – 09 – Her Sun Also Rises

Adachi is so excited about Valentine’s Day she can’t sleep, but Shimamura confirms she’s still down to hang out, so that anticipation sustains Adachi, as does Shimaura’s face when she first sees it in the morning. Shimamura is her “sun”, after all, providing light and warmth to Adachi even if Shimamura herself considers herself far gloomier than she once was.

The first thing Adachi notes about the day is that she’s acting like Shimamura’s puppy, having to be told to “wait” and “stay” and dutifully obeying. She also thinks being an actual puppy in Shimamura’s arms would be pretty nice!

The second thing Adachi notices is that Shimamura is more bubbly than usual, smiling and laughing at Adachi’s answers and reactions as they hurry aboard a Nagoya-bound train. Shimamura offers Adachi the only free seat and they pass the time playing Shiritori.

While waiting in line for Adachi to buy chocolate, the two thumb wrestle. Then the big moment comes, and…Shimamura bought Adachi chocolate from the same place! Turns out she hung out with childhood friend Tarumi the previous day.

While the two hangout sessions have a lot of similarities, Shimamura’s time with Tarumi, I dunno…lacks a certain sparks that the same time with Adachi has in spades? It’s almost as if so much time has passed, these two just aren’t as close as they once were. The happiest Shimamura seems the whole time is when Adachi texts her to confirm they’re still on for Valentine’s!

At the very end, both Shimamura and Tarumi seem a bit disappointed their time together wasn’t as fun as they imagined, but at the very end Shimamura salvages it somewhat by finally remembering she used to call Tarumi “Taru-chan”.

Back in the present, Shimamura and Adachi try the chocolate, with Shimamura drawing in close and grabbing Adachi’s cheek as a lie detecting method, and Adachi telling Shimamura to say “ahh” so she can drop a chocolate into her mouth.

Then Shimamura ends up doing one of the most surprising things she’s ever done: she arranged to have the LCD sign at the station display a message meant for Adachi, stating “I hope we can continue to be close” followed by her name. Adachi is touched, even though Shimamura admits she chose something “safer” since she doubted they’d be in the right place at the right time.

And yet it’s so apropos that they are, and that it worked out. It’s a clear sign to Adachi that Shimamura does care for her, and not just as a puppy…since dogs can’t read after all! Sure, Shimamura still demonstrates she’s still not quite on the same wavelength as Adachi when she’s genuinely confused as to why Adachi wants to hug her.

But that doesn’t change the fact that she does let Adachi hug her, and it’s not at all an unpleasant experience. Hey, she did want to stay close! As for Adachi, she briefly wonders what others around her think about the sight of them, but ultimately doesn’t care; on that train platform in that moment, Shimamura is the only one she sees.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Adachi & Shimamura – 08 – Venus and Mars

Adachi’s push-and-pull, engage-and-retreat campaign to woo-or-not-woo Shimamura proceeds apace, with her becoming fixated on a kooky TV astrologer’s freewheeling romantic advice. Adachi learns that Shimamura is an Aries while she’s a Libra. They’re on literal opposite ends of the Zodiac, and yet many an astrologist refers to their pairing as “interesting”, “passionate”, and even “steamy”—”a lover and a fighter”.

Opposites attract, but while Aries/Libra pairings have their share of benefits, it requires almost constant compromise to meet their very different needs. That certainly seems to be the case based on what we’ve witnessed of the pair so far. Adachi realizes her wishes and desires piling up “far and high like mountain ranges” and tries to keep them in check. Then then there’s Tarumi—whose sign we don’t know—to whom Shimamura seems naturally drawn.

While taking her little sister and Yashiro out to a movie, Shimamura thinks a bit on how things are going, observing that Adachi is way too “eager and excited” and how they’re probably both “overthinking” Valentine’s Day in their own ways. How the shimmery-haired alien girl fits into all this, I still have no idea.

The next day at school it’s Shimamura who reaches out to Adachi, asking if she wants to join her, Hina and Nagafuji for an afternoon of gaming. Adachi appears to demonstrate strong beginner’s luck, then offers to take Shimamura home on her bike. She ends up distracting Adachi from the road and they almost crash, but when Shimamura tightly embraces Adachi from behind it seems to steady her. Adachi senses Shimamura is “stealing her time”…but she sure doesn’t seem to mind it!

After another encounter with Yashiro (who is apparently 680 years old…?) results in Shimamura missing school, Adachi pays her a visit, and Shimamura gives Adachi what she thinks she wants: something like the gym wall that she can lean on for support. Shimamura doesn’t think they can ever go back to that gym wall; the seasons change, and so must they.

On the day Adachi intends to buy Shimamura chocolate, she gets called in for a shift at the restaurant, but she decides she’ll just pick some out with Shimamura when they go out the day of. But as Adachi is working, Shimamura is free, and Tarumi eagerly swoops in to hang out, clearly wanting to spend more time with her old classmate and become closer. That’s probably going to be a problem for Adachi…

The Day I Became a God – 07 – ‘Tis a Great Luxury

Seven days remain till the “end of the world”, whatever that entails (more on that later), so why spend them studying? Youta has the perfect out in the form of Sora completing her new script. Hina decides she’ll be the heroinc, but as Sora’s, like, the only member of the film club and her friends are, like, busy, it’s up to Youta to assemble a crew to shoot the flick.

Due to all of the good deeds Youta has done and lives he’s touched so far this summer, Hina assures him that all he needs to do is make some calls and he’ll get his crew. Sure enough, he gets the same group who showed up for the festival, plus Jinguugi’s ex-loan shark who mended his ways and Tengan Kakou’s, er…let’s call him her valet!

Like the festival, the film shoot enables these colorful characters to bounce off one another, particularly Hina and Kakou, who act like members of warring street gangs in their rivalry of one another. As Sora draws up some storyboards, Kakou and Kyouko watch Hina and Youta playing video games and are sticklers for the game’s lack of intelligent enemies.

Once the shooting starts, Youta quickly learns he must deal with Hina’s usual imperious old-timey way of talking even as she portrays a clumsy girl, since her character will eventually become the world’s savior. Kakou does the best she can do portraying an old man, while Hina and Youta share a surprisingly tender moment after she ruins a dozen eggs.

After Hina messes around with free CGI software to spice up the scenery of the footage, Director Sora wraps shooting for the day, and everyone goes their separate ways once more. Kyouko had so much fun she can’t help but smile and laugh to herself, and was particularly happy to see Youta and Hina get along so well.

Indeed, she even confesses to feeling a little jealous about their rapport. Back home, Youta wonders out loud if it’s really okay to be having so much fun when he should be studying…or preparing for the end of the world. Hina acknowledges that what they’re doing is a luxury, but one that is both called for…and earned.

Cut to Suzuki…Remember him; the hacker boy? In the final five minutes we follow him breathlessly from the back of a Lexus to infiltrating a lab where Dr. Korogi is believed to have spent time. Once in the server room, he digs up some research on “natural immune systems”.

Korogi’s old house is being demolished, so he and his handler Oguma must race to a junkyard to recover more clues. Suzuki saves some books and a frame picture from the chipper, and Oguma saves him from that same chipper. As for the photo, it’s of Dr. Korogi and…our girl Hina. With six days left, Suzuki and Youta’s worlds have finally merged.

Hina was the person Youta spent the most time with this week; before, during, and after the shoot. The reveal Hina is Dr. Korogi’s subject/creation gives their time together greater weight, and also contextualizes Hina’s belief in the imminent world’s end. More than ever, I’m convinced the “world” she speaks of is her own life, with the expectation that she will die having showed Youta a better way to live. Sounds pretty Maeda Jun-y to me!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Adachi & Shimamura – 07 – Friendship Chocolate

Just before midnight, Adachi texts Shimamura and they exchange New Years greetings. Shimamura is lying in her kotatsu and is reminded of Adachi’s thighs, the mention of which make Adachi blush. Adachi continues her push-and-pull between contentment and longing.

Part of her is happy with what she has with Shimamura, and part of her desires…er, more. Shimamura can sense Adachi wants to take their friendship to “higher place”, but is worried she may not have the “wings” with which to follow.

Before long, it’s already February, and Shimamura has observed that Adachi is being shyer and more distant than usual, until one day when she works up the courage to ask Shimamura to hang out after school to buy some sweet snacks. With Valentines Day approaching fast, Adachi wants to make sure she and Shimamura can hang out on that day.

While Nagafuji gets the urge to “lift up” a Hawaii-tanned Hino as they relax together, Shimamura asks Adachi for advice on how she should proceed with her darkening hair. Dye it again? Let it grow out? Adachi is not sure, bu is happy to be asked. Her responses, sometimes interrupted by hiccups, continue to perplex Shimamura: what exactly does this girl want from this? From “us”?

For now, baby steps suffice, as Adachi gets Shimamura to agree to spend Valentines Day together. She also wants them to exchange chocolate like Nagafuji and Hino do, but it’s clear she wants it to be more than obligatory “friendship” chocolate. Shimamura comes to admire Adachi’s resolve to get her words out and express her wants, no matter how much she stumbles along the way.

Little by little, she’s adding color to Shimamura’s grey, empty world. I think that’s a good thing! But then there’s suddenly a new source of color and light in the form of Shimamura’s childhood friend Tarumi, as they encounter one another at Nagafuji’s family shop. Tarumi is quick to note Shimamura has grown into a beauty, and quick ask for number so they can catch up later.

Any way you slice it, this is probably bad news for Adachi. Even if Tarumi doesn’t turn out to be a romantic rival, she’s still competition for “best friend” status, with built-in history helping her case. I can just imagine how Adachi will feel after learning about Tarumi—jealous, lonely, defeated…IN DESPAIR! Hopefully she can shake those things off and fight the good fight.

Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou – 06 – There’s Something About Shion

Turns out Shion doesn’t have the power to draw allies to her; Hinamizawa just happens to be super tight-knit, and an attack on one of them is treated like an attack on all. Maybe the village should be called NATOmizawa, eh? Anywho, Shion changes on a dime from some kind of gangstress to a sweet lass when Ooishi and the cops arrive to take the punks away.

Keiichi is treated to a meal with Shion, who tells him the story about the dam project thwarted by that same village solidarity, weathering violent riots and legal wrangling. Later Keiichi gets a call to come be the guinea pig for the new dessert menu, and he defends Shion’s honor against two boorish otaku.

His ass is kicked, but for Shion the fact he defended her is what matters, and she begins to cling to him like a lover. They go out shopping together and end up at the shop where Mion works part-time, marking the first time we’ve seen the twins together and confirming there are in fact two of them, and that Shion was probably impersonating Mion at times.

Shion is the younger of the two yet more mature and refined compared to Mion’s rougher edges. Shion is also pretty blatant about basically stealing Keiichi out from under Mion’s nose, and whether it’s Shion getting Keiichi to buy a doll for her or talking with him after festival preparations the next day, Mion doesn’t seem too thrilled about her flirty twin sister-interloper.

Things get downright sinister when Tanako Miyo and Tomitake Jirou appear for the first time in this arc. Turns out Miyo’s a bit of a sicko, going on about the death and dismemberment kicking off an annual “curse” of one person in the village being murdered and another “sacrificed” (as opposed to “demoned away” in the last arc). Mion tries to get Keiichi away from the “lame story” but is unsuccessful.

Keiichi’s morbid curiosity and susceptibility to peer pressure rear their ugly heads again the night of the Watanagashi festival, when instead of watching Rika he is pulled away by Shion to the location of the shrine storehouse, where they catch Tanako and Tomitake breaking in. Shion and Keiichi decide to be partners in crime and have a look inside, as it supposedly contains “old ritual tools” that might fascinate Keiichi.

When he agrees, Tanako tells him “you’ve made your choice”, which is really what you want to hear when about to break and enter a dark creepy storehouse. I guess it was Shion’s goal all along to lure Keiichi into this very situation, but why she’s doing so, and what things await him remain tantalizing mysteries.

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 12 (Fin) – The Hanging Out Continues

As expected, last week’s shocking cliffhanger is resolved within the episode’s first two minutes, as Uzaki clarifies she can’t hang out with him because she still has to do her college summer homework. Sakurai closes the door in her face, despite the fact she’s soaked by the rain. Pretty lame fake-out there, to be honest. Also, college summer homework? Sounds high schoolly to me…

When the cafe owner throws out his back lifting something he should have left to his hulking employee, it affords Ami an opportunity to ask Uzaki how she and Sakurai were like in high school. Uzaki basically reiterates that while she was initially intimidated by his scary face, she soon learned he’s a kind, earnest guy. What Uzaki didn’t realize until Ami tells her is that she’s picked up his speech patterns!

On to the next vignette, in which Uzaki, having shown her whole ass (figuratively speaking) to Sakurai when drunk, is determined to get Sakurai into a similar state of vulnerability. Sakaki tells her Sak intentionally keeps his alcohol intake down to avoid showing that side of himself, so she’ll have to work for it.

To that end, she cooks a delicious but spicy dinner for the two, pretends to drink so he’ll keep up, and brings bad shark disaster movies to distract him from his intake. By the end of the evening, Uzaki is successful as Sakurai is very drunk and for once couldn’t act cool if he wanted to, but when he earnestly praises Uzaki’s cooking and lets the word “love” slip, it leads Uzaki to binge drink in order to steel herself.

The end result is Sakaki puts drunk Sakurai in his futon to get a good night’s sleep, and drunk Uzaki crawls into the bed with him. When they wake up face-to-face, they have no memory of what, if anything, happened, and head to the cafe to treat their hangovers with quality coffee.

Naturally, Ami and her dad are eager to hear details about what happened, and are perhaps too amused by the fact neither Sakurai nor Uzaki can definitively state that they did not have a drunken tussle. One would hope that if and when they do it, they’d be in charge of their faculties and, more importantly, remember the experience!

The next college semester starts, and Uzaki has breakfast with her mom and previously unseen(?) little brother. Uzaki spots Sakurai on campus and catches up to his lumbering gait. She’s still experiencing post-summer break shock, and is mostly down in the dumps because she thinks they won’t hang out with classes in session.

Sakurai assures her, perhaps too earnestly, that it doesn’t have to be summer for them to hang out, and that “they’ll always be together.” That last bit brings out Uzaki’s mischievous flesh fang, and we’re basically back to their warm, cozy status quo dynamic.

While watchable and possessed of some nice moments here and there, Uzaki-chan wants to Hang Out! was a pretty ho-hum, take-it-or-leave-it rom-com. Too often the leads felt more like high schoolers than the adults they’re supposed to be. The antics of the Owner/Ami/Sakaki rooting triad grew stale, while the weird Tottori tourism ad episode was…a weird Tottori tourism ad.

That said, Oozora Naomi gave a solid performance as Uzaki, and I’ll be keeping an ear out for her in other lead roles (she’s also great in the far-superior Chio’s School Road). Other than that this show was a somewhat marginal-effort Summer time-passer…which will be back for a second season of hanging out!

Season Average: 7.5