Yuru Camp△ Movie – Adulting Outdoors

Rather than chronicle another fun camping trip in a new place with the Outclub while they’re still in school, Yuru Camp’s first movie takes place in the not-to-distant future, when Rin, Nadeshiko, Aoi, Aki, and Ena are now full-fledged young adults with jobs (though notably no romantic partners).

They stay in touch through chat, but compared with their time at school they’re very far flung and their daily routines have changed. Rin’s at a publishing office in Nagoya, Nadeshiko works at a camping store in Tokyo, Aoi is a grade school teacher, Ena is a pet groomer, and Aki works with the local tourism department after her life in Tokyo didn’t pan out.

It’s Aki who is the catalyst that brings the five Outclub members back together with a bold proposal: take a derelict outdoors youth center with a great view of Fuji-sama and turn it into a campground. After Aki has (lots) of drinks with Rin (all drunk by her; she’s predictably now the lush of the group), she takes them to the spot, and at sunrise, Rin gets it; it’s a good spot.

The challenge, then, is how the five of them are going to navigate their day job obligations and distances and make this thing happen. Aki assigns everyone a role and wisely picks Rin as the team lead, as she’s the most experienced camper and thus perhaps the best organizer of the group.

They start small and realistically; trimming the overgrown grass and removing errant shrubs while discussing ideas for what they want on the grounds. Once a farmer friend of Aki’s shows them the proper way to to these things, and they get their hands on some machinery, the cleanup work accelerates.

It’s exciting watching the adult versions of these characters, already having eased into their new adult lives, banding together once more over something they always loved sharing with each other—camping—with the goal of now sharing that love with others so those people will share it, and so on and so forth.

It’s also comforting to know that both the chemistry and the comedic banter among the young women is still alive and well. A different movie could have had its individual members much more isolated and/or estranged (or even having families of their own) but this is rather the evolution of Cute Girls Doing Cute Things—Cute Women Doing Cool Things.

Once all the major cleanup and grading is complete, they decide to give the grounds a whirl by being the first to camp there. They find areas for improvements, and also ease back into their old dynamic of preparing a perfect campsite and cooking the perfect camp feasts.

The fact that these five young women are now old hands at camp cooking—not to mention they have a lot more cash than they did as kids—means Nadeshiko and Aki really go all out with the (still on sale!) salmon, with a light yet hearty cream soup and a full-on hot pot. The fact that these five young women are now old hands at camp cooking.

But like Yuru Camp’s first two seasons, the movie is not entirely without conflict, which comes in the form of a setback. Ena’s now-old pup Chikuwa brings her an odd piece of broken pottery, which eventually leads to a full archeological survey and excavation, which first delays and then completely nixes the campground plan. Aki, who brought everyone into this plan, has to make the call to everyone saying all their hard work may have been for naught!

And yet, because they’re adults, this isn’t the end of the world for any of them. It’s definitely disappointing, even deflating, but everyone aside rom Aki finds solace and stability in their day jobs. Rin finds out her senpai at work has been supporting her a lot behind the scenes so she could work on the campground project (both as team lead and covering it as a print and online serial for the magazine) and vows to work harder.

Aoi’s work story might be the most bittersweet, as the school where she’d started teaching just a couple years ago is closing down (possibly due to there simply not being enough kids to fill it), but gives the kids who are there all the love and attention she’s got. And I love how three high schoolers from Bizarro Yuru Camp come into Nadeshiko’s store again, looking to dip their tows into camping. Nadeshiko truly was born to get people into camping!

Those three kids’ simple but very doable plan to have a day trip with cup noodles inspires her to invite Rin to a special new spot: Rin has to endure a lot of climbing in the snow and ice, but the reward is the highest hot spring in Japan, which is tiny, but also breathtakingly beautiful, not to mention the absolute best thing after all the exertion.

There, the two old friends discuss how they really have become proper adults, who can do a lot more than they used to, not just regarding camping, but life in general. Nadeshiko also notes that even adults can’t do anything, but they can do what they can. She doesn’t regret the time they spent trying to get the campground off the ground, even if it didn’t work out. Neither does Rin.

It’s fortunate, then, that the campground plan isn’t entirely dead. With help from Ena, Aki prepares a new proposal that integrates the archeological site with the campground. The video presentation shows footage of the five women working hard and also relaxing and enjoying the outdoors, and is extremely persuasive.

The council votes to approve the plan, which means the Outclub is back in business, having only lost a couple of months. They cut the grass back down, the dog run is completed, they put a coat of paint on the distinctive aviary frame, and Aoi procures all the stuff they’ll need for the kid’s area.

When Aoi brings the fancy and very professional sign made by Akari (who is now in art school) and the five mount it to the entrance, it lends an immensely satisfying feeling of completion. They adulted the hell out of shit, and weathered the challenges that came their way. They did it!

Mind you, while getting caught up in all the excitement, they forgot to post the signs leading to the campground, so their first group of campers (many of them family and friends and thus more forgiving) get lost on their way there!

Not a problem, as the women work together to communicate with Rin while she rides out (not on her gramps’ motorcycle, which is in the shop, but her old moped) to locate and guide everyone safely to their destination. Crisis averted!

Once the sun sets and everyone is settled in, the five women stand at the top of the hill and admire what they’ve accomplished. Earlier, Rin’s Gramps gave the site his blessing. The group makes plans right then and there to reunite and camp there for New Years, when the sun rises out of Fuji-san’s peak. Rin, to the surprise of the other four, says she’ll also be joining them (albeit tentatively). Of course, she told Aki she’d “think about” helping with the campground too!

As the credits go by we get snapshots of that trip, on which Rin indeed accompanies the others, while we also get snapshots of them continuing their adult lives at their jobs. Aoi’s at a new school, Nadeshiko is still being the best dang camping store clerk ever, Rin is hard at work at the magazine, Ena’s grooming pups, and Aki is sticking with the local tourism.

A planned third season of Yuru Camp will likely return us to the present when they’re all still in school. But it was great to see everyone doing so well in the future. I got the same warm, fuzzy, cozy, calming, healing feelings I got from the show, only a little more adult-y. I honestly wouldn’t mind if season 3 picked up from here!

It also had some low-key poignant commentary on the preservation and revitalization of existing things—as well as the need to preserve and occasionally revitalize one’s old friendships! What better way to do that then to go camping, when we can be one with ourselves, rely on one another, and of course indulge in lavish outdoor feasts!

Bocchi the Rock! – 05 – Not Just for Me

Seika distributes the girls’ pay, and for a moment Bocchi dreams of all the nice things she can spend it on. Unfortunately, she forgot that every one of the 10,000 yen she received goes into the band’s quota fund.

When Nijika lists all of the bands other expenses down the road that will necessitate second jobs in the summer, Bocchi retreats to the nearest trash can, then looks for a sketchy online website that buys livers from minors.

But in addition to receiving their first pay, Ryou has big news: she’s finished their song. Once she read Bocchi’s lyrics, the music just poured out of her. As thanks, Ryou gives Bocchi a chin scratch that makes Ikuyo green with envy. All that’s left is for Nijika to ask her sister for a slot for them to play.

But what she thought was a mere formality turns out to be a firm obstacle: Seika won’t book them. She only made an exception the last time so Nijika could make a memory, but doesn’t sugarcoat things at all when she says she can’t have a repeat of “that awful May performance”, and tells Nijika to stick with it “as a hobby.”

Nijika storms out of the club, and Ikuyo insists that she and Ryou run after her. Bocchi starts to follow, but is held back by Seika. When she rejoins her bandmates, she tells them what Seika told her: if they want to perform on stage, they’ll have to audition in a week. That means Bocchi has to get better at playing in a band and Ikuyo has to get better at playing period.

Nijika and Ryou believe they’ll be fine as long as they show her sister that they’re “bank-like”, which for the whimsical Ryou means dressing up in suits and mop-top wigs. But as the week of practice proceeds, Bocchi thinks long and hard about what she’s trying to accomplish now that she’s in a band, and what “growth” means beyond simply exerting a lot of effort.

Nijika misreads Bocchi’s distraction with these big questions, and after their last practice before the audition, catches up with her at the vending machines, buys her a cola, and apologizes for roping her into a band without asking her what kind of band she wanted.

Bocchi assures her she’s not doing this against her will, but still won’t tell her that she wanted to join for fame and adoration. By the same measure, Bocchi knows Nijika wants to play at the Budokan, but Nijika has a dream beyond that, which she’s keeping secret for now.

I really liked this scene both artistically (the light of the vending machines is both dramatic and warm) and as a sign that Nijika and Bocchi are still relatively new friends, and still have a lot to learn about each other. That will happen in time as they share more experiences.

The day of the audition arrives, and I felt a pit in my stomach for the girls as they took the stage. It’s the first full song we get to watch the band play, and after four episodes and change, it feels momentous. The performance animation looks great, and more importantly the band sounds great … but crucially not too perfect. There’s plenty of room for polish.

As they play, Bocchi asserts that she’s grown from someone who wanted to become famous for herself, but now that she’s in a band and has friends, she wants to help them achieve their dreams too. Beyond personal motivation, she doesn’t want to let them down or be a weak link.

Infused with that passion to lift herself and the others, her stage play takes a noticeable step up in quality. She’s able to enter a zone where she’s comfortable enough to play almost as well as she plays when she’s recording covers in her closet. A previously private Bocchi, now performing in public and turning heads, just like she dreamed.

Granted, the heads she turns are those of Seika, P.A., and her bandmates, but you gotta start somewhere! When the song ends and everyone is catching their breath, Seika starts with criticism—the drums are too tight, the bass is too distant, etc.—before noting that she now knows what kind of band they are. That means they pass!

The ordeal is so taxing on Bocchi that the show has to cut to live-action video of various Japanese dams while she boots next to the stage. Turns out Seika is a big ol’ softie who had an open slot for her sister’s band all along, but didn’t want to make it too easy for Nijika. She challenged them to work hard and play their butts off, and they did.

Seika also wants to try to encourage Bocchi and further unlock talents being held back by lack of confidence. But in what’s looking like a penchant, Seika’s attempt is worded so that Bocchi misinterprets her “I see you, okay?” as a threat, not a supportive acknowledgement.

While Bocchi panics over having one family member short of the five-ticket quota (two, if you don’t count her dog) the bottom line is shit is starting to get real for Kessoku Band. They have a song, and another on the way, and they have a venue and slot for their first concert as a unit. It’s not “all over” at all!

Bocchi the Rock! – 03 – Extroversion Abounds

Bocchi recovers from her self-inflicted fever after a couple days, and while brushing her ahoge tells her little sister it’s important for “people like her” to attend class lest her classmates forget she exists. Her little sister says her sister is “a pain in her own ass” and she’s not wrong! That said, Bocchi is still feeling confident now that she’s made two friends, joined a band, and gotten a part-time job.

That confidence evaporates when yet again no one approaches her in class, and when she hears two girls engaging in band talk, she loudly yelps to get their attention. Not only do they know her name, but they seem open to hearing her out, but poor Bocchi can’t get any words out. She didn’t prepare adequately! So she retreats to a dark corner of the school to eat lunch in tears.

When she encounters Kita Ikuyo, a red-haired girl that everyone says is great at karaoke, Bocchi observes her from afar, but is too intimidated by how much of an extrovert the girl is to get any closer. When the girl notices her anyway and also knows her name, Bocchi once again can’t say any words—she can only beatbox!

When Ikuyo beatboxes back, Bocchi shouts an apology, bolts, then returns to her hiding spot to serenade us with a ballad of melancholy. However only we hear the lyrics; Ikuyo followed Bocchi there, heard her playing, and thinks she’s awesome!

Bocchi, unaccustomed to praise, laps it up like honey and instantly deems Ikuyo a good person. Bocchi finally manages to blurt out the reason she’s been wanting to approach Ikuyo, and Ikuyo tells her she’s sorry, but she can’t join her band. Bocchi assumes she’s the reason and makes up all kinds of things to make her bandmates sound cool as hell (and they look kinda like Panty & Stocking in her mental image!) … to no avail.

Ikuyo says she can’t join a band for the same reason she flaked out on the band she joined to be closer to her senpai: she can’t actually play the guitar. Hearing her say she thought the neck was “for decoration” astonishes Bocchi, but despite her inner voice telling her “say no girl!”, she agrees to teach Ikuyo how to play in between school, band, and work.

After texting Nijika and Ryou to bring lots of energy drinks and blast EDM when they next meet, Bocchi takes Ikuyo to Shimo-Kita, and ends up having Ikuyo lead the way, using her as a shield to avoid the stares of others (while actually attracting more staring in the process).

When Bocchi mentions STARRY, Nijika and Ryou, Ikuyo tries to back out, saying she can’t go back there, but Nijika and Ryou arrive, arms bursting with energy drinks, and she can no longer run away. Once inside, Bocchi can tell how uncomfortable Ikuyo seems and wants to say something nice, but Ryou beats her to it.

Ikuyo wants to make it up to Nijika and Ryou for ditching them, and Nijika’s sister suggests she work a shift with the others. No doubt recognizing her talent for public relations, Seika dresses Ikuyo up in a maid outfit and has her handle admissions and drink tickets.

Bocchi immediately starts feeling inadequate and redundant, “losing her identity” and turning into a mist that rises up the club stairs as Ryou looks on. A “Thanks for Watching!” card flashes as if to herald yet another premature end to the series, but she snaps out of it when she’s asked to show Ikuyo how to serve drinks.

Unfortunately, being watched makes Bocchi so nervous she burns herself with coffee. Ikuyo wraps her hand in a handkerchief, and Bocchi notices something about Ikuyo’s hand. When Ikuyo asks why Bocchi joined a band, Bocchi lies and says “world peace” because she’s self-conscious about having “impure” motives like wanting fame and popularity.

But then Ikuyo turns around and admits her motives are impure (too): she joined to be closer to her senpai, Ryou, whom she once watched performing on the streets and fell head-over-heels in love. Honestly, I can’t blame her; of the four leads, three are extremely high-strung, while Ryou’s never not an island of cool tranquility.

When the music’s over and the house lights are back up, Ikuyo prepares to depart from her first and only shift at STARRY. But even earlier, Bocchi had been building up the determination to say something to Ikuyo to make her stay. Unfortunately, her body moves before her mind can get all its ducks in a row, and she ends up tripping, ripping down a black curtain, and smacking her noggin on the wall.

While it’s not how she wanted to do it, it does keep Ikuyo there, if only because she’s concerned about Bocchi. She even gleans that Bocchi was going to try to say something to convince her it was okay to stay, but says she can’t join a band she already flaked out on once, especially when she can’t really play the guitar.

Bocchi tells Ikuyo that she ran away before the concert too, and threw herself in a trash can. But she also felt Ikuyo’s hands when she was treating her burn, and she felt the calluses one only gets by working their butt off practicing. That is all Bocchi needs to know that Ikuyo is committed enough to join, or rather re-join Kessoku Band.

Nijika and Ryou agree with Bocchi: Ikuyo should join them. They’re not even mad that she flaked out the first time, because if she hadn’t they wouldn’t have meet Bocchi! But the fact remains, Ikuyo’s guitar ignorance is such that she’d been practicing on a six-string bass all this time without knowing it, attributing the bomm-bomm sound it made to her being terrible.

Ryou buys her bass (and ending up broke and eating weeds) and lends her an actual guitar to practice with as Bocchi teaches her in STARRY’s back room. Ikuyo’s progress is slow and she’s easily frustrated and whines a lot, but Bocchi recognizes all of the ways she gets frustrated because that was her three years ago. Now she has the skills to not only play, but teach.

Bocchi was right about Ikuyo, she’s a very nice person. She’s so nice, she almost deprived herself of her dream of playing with her beloved senpai because she thought her misdeeds were too serious to be forgiven. But Bocchi, Nijika, and Ryou are also good kids, and knew the band would be better with her than without.

That Bocchi worked so hard in recruiting Ikuyo speaks to how she continues to make progress interacting with people. Her anxiety and myriad neuroses were likely remain a part of her for a good long time (if not forever) but she’s gradually learning that she, like everyone else, deserves a happy life and friends to rock out with.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 13 (S1 E01) – The Play’s the Thing

After an efficient recap of where the four girls currently stand in the story, we return to Kazuya’s filthy flat (seriously dude, clean it the fuck up!), lamenting the “countdown to ruin”—Chizuru’s big acting break that will lead to her being discovered by a big-deal director and quitting her rental girlfriend gig.

He decides to buy a ticket to Chizuru’s play as “moral support”, but also wonders if he simply wants to watch the beginning of the end of his relationship with her. Sumi spots him, but before she can say anything the lights go down, the curtain comes up, and Kazuya gets a lot more than he bargained for.

Watching Chizuru perform as a completely different person—in this case a puckish kunoichi—is a revelation for Kazuya. He’s taken on an emotional roller coaster as Chizuru grabs the entire audience in her hand and doesn’t let go. She’s magnetic, clearly the “MVP” of the play. He’s so stunned by the end he doesn’t move from his seat for a while. Sumi, who can probably tell why, leaves him be.

But while he, Sumi, and indeed I truly thought Chizuru stole the show in which she wasn’t even the lead, her performance doesn’t lead to the opportunity she’d planned. Turns out the famous director is basically the lead actress’ damn uncle, and gives her the role. Even though she was a victim of nepotism, Chizuru thinks she wasn’t good enough.

Kazuya leaving the theater in no particular hurry combined with an upset Chizuru skipping the wrap party means the two inevitably bump into each other on the streets. Kazuya quickly owns up to coming to see her perform, and is extremely effluent in his praise. He also accepts the fact that this probably means the end of their rental dating.

When Chizuru explains that things didn’t work out and then puts on a brave happy face, Kazuya at least realizes that she’s trying to keep her frustration bottled up. But he’s not going to let her say she’s “just like him” in getting “too worked up” about acting, because her rental girlfriend gig is proof she does have talent, and plenty of it.

Chizuru’s attitude suggests she’s ready to throw in the towel and face reality, but Kazuya suspect she doesn’t want to, and also doesn’t think she should. If she needs to keep funding her dream of acting, then he’s going to keep hiring her to be his rental girlfriend, getting a job to pay the fees.

Chizuru is recalling Kazuya’s words when she comes home and sits in the dark, and then she gets a call from the lead actress who got the role thanking her for “warming up the crowd”, twisting the dagger and sending the cork on the bottle of her tears shooting across the room.

That said, her tear-filled eyes are suddenly reflecting the light of her phone, which just alerted her to a whole slew of new bookings from Kazuya, putting his money where his mouth is and adding financial support to his moral support. While she calls him a dumbass as usual for going to such lengths for her sake, the gesture doesn’t fail to bring a smile to her face and color to her cheeks.

I said in my review of the first season finale that if a sequel of RaG was made, it would be the girls who’d bring me back, since Kazuya was mostly an infuriating pest of an MC. Well, that sequel has now arrived two years later, and while Kazuya continues to keep a pigsty of a place and harbor a lot of misunderstandings, he’s…not that bad in this episode!

Ruka would probably disagree, seeing as how he continues to utterly ignore her, but that’s for another episode. Here Chizuru clearly stole the show, and Kazuya did what he could to make her feel better and encouraged her not to stop dreaming after one setback. He was a pretty good fake boyfriend! Now, keep it up!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 07 – The Dark Legend of Shuchiin

Let’s Have a Campfire

When Miko and Yuu are assigned by Miyuki to aid the understaffed Cultural Festival Committee, they are thrown into a maelstrom of enthusiasm. Miko is thrown off by the intense vibes, Yuu is, as we well know, used to this, and joins in with gusto. It certainly helps that the head of the committee is his crush—the ever sweet and ebullient Tsubame.

Yuu knows he’s far from Tsubame’s only admirer, and so takes strides to one-up all of the other guys’ attempts to sound informed, important, and valuable to her. When Miko’s ideals don’t mesh with the other committee members, Tsubame is there to step in and keep things calm.

When Miko’s own enthusiasm for a campfire is met with skepticism over the many difficulties involved, Miko refuses Yuu’s help and powers through the doubters with her fesity iron will.

As a member of the Disciplinary Committee, Miko deems it her duty to seize trust from the grown-ups. To that end, she uses her solid reputation as a good girl with the neighborhood association, gets the cooperation of the fire department, and knocks on every door in order to notify everyone of the school’s intentions and assure them it will be done right.

Onodera Rei, who was initially one of Miko’s doubters, ends up helping Miko out and the two find a rapport because, after all, she wants a campfire too!

First-Pressed Perplexity

The middle portion of the episode is given over to the Mass Media Club duo of Erika and Karen as they interview various clubs on the impending festival. They start with Kaguya and the Archery Club, and we learn that the two are absolutely hopeless Kaguya worshippers.

Not that I can blame them; she’s spectacular. When they ask a tough question about why she’s not participating in an upcoming tournament, Kaguya keeps her reply vague, since she’d never reveal the true reason: the possibility of going on a Christmas date with Miyuki!

After speaking to the ever-graceful Tsubame at the Rhythmic Gymnastics Club, the media girls head to the roof where the Astronomy Club’s mobbed-up Ryuujuu Momo is loath to speak to them, and directs them to Miyuki, who is working on a giant papier-mâché dragon coiled around a golden ball.

As with Kaguya, Erika and Karen are in awe of Miyuki’s quite nobility, especially when he cryptically declares he’s going to “get it done like a man” at the culture festival.

Finally, the girls check in on the thoroughly oddball Board Game Club, who may not necessarily let the fact their grand plan for “a game involving the whole school” was rejected stop them from implementing it. To be continued…

No Effort Is Wasted

The final segment feels like the weakest, at least at first, with Chika once again being exasperated by Miyuki being extremely bad at something—in this case inflating balloons. No matter how many he pops, Chika refuses to teach “the child” as she has in the past.

Nagisa tries to smooth things over by telling Miyuki to give up and try an easier task, but Chika rightly scolds her for encouraging him to aim lower.

Miyuki ends up going to the StuCo office to attempt to inflate his balloons, and finds Kaguya quietly sewing an apron for her class’s maid café. She says it’s fine for him to carry on, but the repeated balloon bursts soon become torturous.

He proceeds to lament the fact he’s so bad at ordinary things ordinary people do easily, and vents about his frantic desire to hide his weaknesses and struggle to deny his incompetence.

Kaguya sidles up to the frustrated Miyuki with a big warm smile, happy to have “unraveled another mystery” about her boy. She assures him that no effort is wasted. As always, her words are able to soothe his soul.

When it comes to admitting their feelings for each other and agreeing to go out, this is a task neither seems quite ready to pull off, which is a tremendous shame, since they both clearly want nothing else.

That said, Miyuki instituted a deadline for asking Kaguya out, and no matter how many new or old balloons pop, I’m looking forward to him ultimately getting the job done.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 05 – Their Juliet

Hiyori’s foot injury isn’t something that goes away overnight. Like Embiid being out with a fractured orbital, it ruins any chance of coming close to touching her goal. It only takes one race and a few hurdles before her foot barks at her and she’s suddenly washed out of prelims. She got hurt doing a job she took to help pay to live in Tokyo so she could run, and now she can’t run.

It hurts to see our typically chipper chipmunk suddenly brought so low, and struggling to hide it from the ones she cares about. She puts on a brave face for her family over the phone, but I bet her mom can imagine her daughter’s distraught face as she says everything is fine, unconvincingly. She stares at the ceiling at night and almost gets lost up there.

Aizou and Yuujirou have been around Hiyori long enough to know something’s not right, and even come right out and ask her what’s up; why she’s suddenly so much less dashy. As you’d expect, Hiyori doesn’t want to burden them with her troubles when they have a huge concert coming up, so she does her job with a smile. But they know she’s hiding something.

They learn from Uchida how Hiyori’s dream to make the nationals was deferred by her injury, and Aizou remembers when she seemed to look hurt after delivering their swag to the venue. Add to that the fact that this latest show is the last day Hiyori is contracted to work as LIPxLIP’s manager, and there’s a distinct pall over what should be joyful festivities as the duo takes another step forward in their idol careers.

Aizou and Yuujirou decide to do something for Hiyori to cheer her up. They ask her to make sure she finishes all her backstage duties before their scheduled encore, then switch the final song from “Nonfantasy” to “Dream Fanfare”, the lyrics to which almost seem like they were written specifically for Hiyori, the “Julieta” to whom they dedicate the song.

That tribute and the lyrics are not lost on Hiyori, who for thew first time isn’t on the sidelines but has a primo seat in the center of the front row of the second deck. From that vantage point she can’t not realize for the first time the true power of idols, and how they’e not just scary or two-faced, bt truly amazing in what they can do and how they can inspire a crowd.

Despite the song being meant as an encouraging sendoff for Hiyori to commit fuly to her track dreams, it actually inspires her to stay on as their manager-in-training, indefinitely. It’s true, she could dedicate more time to track if she wasn’t working, but Hiyori doesn’t want to compromise…she wants it all. She’s not ready to say goodbye to LIPxLIP, and while they react with characteristic haughty apathy at her announcement, I have no doubt they’re glad she’ll sticking around.

But what’s this? Nagisa is coming to Tokyo? Who’s Nagisa? Hiyori’s would-be fiancé? Maybe! In any case, I can’t wait to see what Hiyori’s iconic eyebrows do when this bumpkin surprise her…not to mention how he and the idols will clash! Until then, this was a beautiful capper to a mini-arc in which Hiyori apparently took too much on and stumbled, only to dust herself off and keep going. Hurdles are meant to be cleared!

Heroines Run the Show – 04 – Two Grooms

Clearly more moved than she expected by their princely defense of her against the vile Yumeru, Hiyori has a dream about marrying Aizou and Yuujirou, and the two of them almost kissing her. Naturally, the first time she sees the two she can’t quite look them in the eye. They seem genuinely miffed by this, as who averts their eyes from an idol? But it’s also because they know something’s up with her.

While Yumeru was thoroughly unpleasant, the result of their collab is a lot more fangirls flocking to the boy’s desks at school. Aizou is so overwhelmed he seemingly passes out, and Yuujirou makes mention of some “trauma” that makes Aizou especially lady-averse. While grabbing lunch for herself and Aizou, she meets his big brother Ken, who assumes Hiyori is Aizou’s GF and explains that both he and their mom are super-comfortable with the opposite sex, which might contribute to the straight-laced Aizou.

Hiyori proves her manager mettle by securing the counseling room for Aizou and Yuujirou to hide out whenever things get too hot. Aizou is clearly still a little off after being so surrounded by fans, and clearly loathing leaving the room to buy lunch, so it’s a good thing Hiyori bought him a cutlet sandwich! Yuujirou shares some of the massive lunch his mom made with Hiyori.

The day somehow gets worse for LIPxLIP when an article comes out exposing Yuujirou as the heir to a famous kabuki actor and living national treasure. Hiyori volunteers to shoo away the reporters, but Yuujirou decides to face and fight them head-on with his famous smile and politeness. Hiyori is literally moved to tears when she watches Aizou come in at just the right time to have his partner’s back.

Yuujirou and Aizou come up with a piece of rosette ribbon swag for their fans at their next outdoor concert, and were clearly inspired by their track-running manager-in-training; a way of making every fan “1st Place in their hearts”. But when it’s time for the show, the staffers forgot the ribbons. No matter, Hiyori uses those track legs to race to the nearest taxi, and when the taxi gets stuck in traffic on the way back, runs the rest of the way and gets the swag there in time for the boys to distribute it.

Yuujirou and Aizou can’t help but be impressed by Hiyori going the extra mile for her. They all exchange “good works” and are ready to part ways, but the boys notice that Hiyori is reacting like she’s in pain. Indeed, she sprained her ankle while racing there in time, and now that her adrenaline levels are dropping, she’s feeling the pain even more. So she’s working so she can run track in Tokyo, but now she can’t run. Hiyori doesn’t deserve such misfortune. Maybe the boys can carry her around like the queen she is on a palanquin until she recovers!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 03 – Princely When it Counts

It was only a matter of time before LIPxLIP warmed up to Hiyori’s wholesome country charm. Yuujirou and Aizou were hostile towards her initially simply because they didn’t know her. That’s rectified by Uchida, who tells Yuujirou (who then tells Aizou) that Hiyori came to Tokyo to run, and took a job to live.

The boys call each other out on being okay with this girl among all the others (in Aizou’s case) and having no qualms about showing his true self (in Yuujirou’s). Knowing how hard she works, they can’t help but show grudging respect; at least from afar.

Closer in, they’re much more comfortable messing with her, though when they learn that she failed her midterms and is desperately crunching for the finals so she can compete in athletics, they eventually close the distance and give her some pointers on what to study for in the little time she has left.

What good boys! And here I was calling them assholes last week. They were, and often still are, but it’s goot to see their sharp edges softening due to Hiyori not only being someone you want to support and protect, but also someone you admire for not giving up no matter how high the hurdles.

Going to school together and working together, these three high school-age people were always going to gradually become friends, I just didn’t expect it to come so fast and yet so organically. But that rapidity is facilitated by a catalyst when the three are on a music video shoot for their song “Nonfantasy”.

Their co-star in the video is the up-and-coming amateur model Yumeru-chan, whom we meet in an elegant red dress. She’s a big fan of LIPxLIP, so when she spots the boys goofing around with Hiyori, she gets right pissed off. She wants to be their clothing tree, dagnabit!

Fishing for juicy rumors and looking to put a rival in their place, Yumeru takes Hiyori aside and asks her straight-up what her relationship to the others is. Hiyori deflects and is clearly uncomfortable, and why wouldn’t she be? This world of desperately beautiful people dressed like royalty isn’t her world; they’re stars, and she’s just a bit player.

And while yes, Yumeru is meant to be more “classically pretty”, Hiyori is a far more beautiful person, because she’s not looking to put others down to lift herself up. She just wants to run, and make her friends and family happy they gave her their support.

During a dinner break, Yuujirou and Aizou laugh when Hiyori’s stomach grumbles, and happily offer her some of what looks like an epic craft services spread. Yumeru, again both mystified and enraged, trips Hiyori while she’s walking away, and coffee spills on her dress. The boys apologize profusely for their “staff member.”

Hiyori hides under the lectern of a wedding chapel, but the boys soon track her down, clearly concerned with her. Yumeru shows up and asks for their numbers, but they don’t give them out; company policy. Then Yumeru spots Hiyori in the shadows and asks why they’re fine with her?

Yumeru has the nerve to warn them that Hiyori may have just taken the job to get closer to them—right after she took this job tried to get closer to them. Aizou—not Yuujirou—drops the idol mask and points out this hypocrisy. Yuujirou then adds that he saw Yumeru trip Hiyori.

When she claims she didn’t, he says they can check the security cameras to be sure. He then praises her fake crying but suggests she doesn’t take up acting as she “lacks imagination” to realize messing with their staff would piss them off. After Yumeru storms off, Aizou tells Yuu he might’ve gone too far, but Yu isn’t concerned. If Yumeru wants to start a shit fight, he can sling it with the best of them.

The bottom line is, the risk of exposing their mean sides was worth it if it meant telling someone that Hiyori may be a somewhat plain, simple country girl staff member, she’s also not someone they’ll tolerate being abused. Yumeru made Hiyori an enemy for no reason, and when the boys saw that, it likely reminded them of their shitty attitudes when Hiyori was first hired, thus compounding their irritation.

I’m happy to report that while they will likely continue to mess with Hiyori because she’s such an easy target, they’re also doing it good-naturedly, because they’ve come to like her, and anyway wouldn’t mess with someone they didn’t. They’re also genuinely concerned about how her exams turns out, and flash their best idol smiles upon learning she barely passed.

The power of those idol smiles is enough  to make even Hiyori blush. After all, even after they took off their prince costumes for the music video, they still looked pretty damn princely to Hiyori, because they defended her against someone who didn’t know her. Now that they do, they’ll slay any dragon for her.

In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki – 02 – Three Dogs, Three Sheep, a Duel and Double Meat

The repetitive conjecture about otoko (i.e., males) so prevalent in the opener is entirely absent here, with one half focusing on a Dog v. Sheep combat training. Tachiaoi invited Tsubaki to join them first, but cocky Team Sheep leader Benisumomo insists on taking Team Dog on. But Sheep member Touwata, obsessed with hard work and willpower, thinks her leader Beni is relying to much on her talen

Her concern leads her to parlay with Team Dog for Tsubaki to give Beni a “good thrashing” in hopes it will convince her to start working harder. Tsubaki agrees, and in the meantime Sazanka and Asagao break the parlay by capturing Touwata, only for both of them to get caught in Sheep’s trap expert Mizubahou’s rope net (a net she’d only set up due to habit!).

You immediately get the feeling Tsubaki is only humoring the younger Touwata, and sure enough, Tsubaki is one of the only people who knows that Benisumomo’s cool lazy act is just that: an act. In reality, Beni works her ass off and always has. She just worries that if anyone else knew her secret it would harm her carefully maintained rep.

After a friendly greeting, Tsubaki and Beni get down to business. It’s clear from their sparring that these are indeed two of the most talented kunoichi in the village, and their jumps, flips, feints, kicks, and punches comprise a beautiful, deadly dance. The two flow like water until breathing flame one another, creating a big boom that draws their kohai rush to the scene. Tsubaki and Beni say they came to a draw, but Beni promises Touwata that she’ll win next time.

In the second segment, Sazanka wants more of Tsubaki’s attention but the two are in different huts for their respective classes. But Tsubaki has apparently been more distracted because of otoko of late (though you wouldn’t know it from this episode). So Tsubaki sneaks out of class through the bathroom, telling Asagao to stay put and cover for her. Before long Asagao is threatened with no dinner and instructed to catch Sazanka at all costs.

While glancing out the window in class, Tsubaki spots her kohais playing hooky and intercepts them. I love how Sazanka rushes at her big sis only to catch nothing but air as Tsubaki flips over her while tying her up in one lovely acrobatic flourish. But when asked directly why she snuck out of class, Sazanka surprises Asagao by not giving the true reason, not wanting Tsubaki to feel like this was her fault for neglecting her kohai.

Tsubaki, however, is as wise as she is strong, and knows Sazanka was lying about simply wanting to go for a walk in the nice weather. So she keeps the camellias Sazanka picked for her (symbolizing love, natch), and makes sure to give her some love later. Sazanka makes good on her promise to give Asagao all of her meat, and Tsubaki shares half of hers with Sazanka.

From the friendly but intense competition between Tsubaki and Benisumomo, to the similar dynamic between the two older girls’ eager kohais, to the sisterly affection that surrounds both Team Dog and the Akane community as a whole, this episode was a compelling slice of kunoichi life.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 02 – Oh My Crêpe!!

At first it looks like CEO Tamura and LIPxLIP manager Uchida have played a cruel prank on an unwitting Hiyori (whom Uchida misnames as “Hiyako”…maybe on purpose?!). Aizou and Yuujirou unleash a barrage of insults on her, but she absorbs them and fires back with some extremely rude and accurate retorts, and all three kids learn why the adults put them together: Hiyako’s got guts, and doesn’t care that they’re idols.

That she’s literally in their class is icing on the cake. In a rather oddly dimly-lit scene where her teacher Akechi-sensei offers her candy (don’t do it Hiyori!) and Hiyori climbs on top of the desk to whisper in his ear (what a dang goof!) she also gets an easy approval of her new job (thanks to Tamura) and also an assurance he’ll keep quiet about it. Hiyori, lovable hayseed that she is, is in awe of what most Tokyo kids would think was a humdrum teacher. He’s there to support her and everyone else in his class and make sure they enjoy their high school life.

She soon learns her job is to further support Aizou and Yuujirou on the idol side of their lives. This means, yes, being a personal assistant to a pair of pretty but ill-mannered cads-and-a-half. We feel every hour of Hiyori’s day that stretches out like the deserts in “Ozymandias”, waking up, studying, running, and then being a human coatrack and vending machine. Still, the pay is good, so while Hiyori hardly sails through her duties she does tough it out with a stiff upper-lip and some lovely withering inner dialogue about how much these two disagreeable fops grind her freakin’ gears.

While the idols suck, Hiyori at least initially isn’t all that good at her job, rendering some of their criticism valid, if indelicately expressed. For one thing, she simply allows girls to swarm the boys during a break, and even gets up to hang out with her friends when Yuujirou artfully reminds her it’s her job to get them out of these situations. That’s when she learns that Aizou is uncomfortable around girls, making him that much more amazing an actor. She knew Yuujirou can be apocalyptically surly, but Aizou confirms that it’s Yuujirou’s normal state.

Even so, Hiyori’s entire life, not even school life, is busied up playing LIPxLIP Service. We watch her steadfast determination to get to the lunch rush early, unto almost breaking the no-running-in-the-halls rule (a truly dastardly and prejudiced rule for, ya know, a runner!). We see her meeting up with Juri, who gives her good advice that nets her her first non-mooched lunch, which she savors accordingly. Then Chizuru casually asks Hiyori what shes been up to, and Hiyori has to lie (badly) because part of her job is keeping her job secret.

We also get a peek at Hiyori’s track life, as her senpai Hina is warm, supported, and extremely protective of her first-year, especially when her friend Koutarou narrowly keeps Hiyori from getting brained by a soccer ball. Hina quickly and expertly extorts free crêpes out of Koutarou, and by doing so inadvertently sparks one of Hiyori’s most heartfelt desires of coming to the big city. Alas, she cannot enjoy crêpes with her senpais … because she has work.

When the boys’ next gig takes them to a podcast recording by Rio and Yui, two members of an established rival idol group AT4, Aizou and Yuujirou play things safe with their sugary smiles and empty platitudes. They’re so perfect and dull that Yui goes off-script and tells them they’re lying about simply wanting to entertain people and make their fans happy. He might be on to something, but Rio stops recording and disciplines Yui. But while he apologizes to Aizou and Yuujirou, he also offers them candid advice: hollow smiles will only get them so far in this business.

Back at school, Hiyori is minding her own business when she hears hollerin’, and spots Aizou and Yuujirou at each others’ throats again. Since Uchida is paying her handsomely even while she’s at school, Hiyori comes between the two. When she stumbles on her landing, the easy play would have been for Hiyori to end up falling onto the boys, but instead she falls into them like a missle, shoving them back. When she warns them that they risk getting suspended, neither seem to care. In fact, attending school was the condition they had to agree upon in order to become idols.

Hiyori, who has always dreamed of going to a big Tokyo school, laments how it hasn’t turned out anything like she expected. That being said, she could quit anytime she wanted; her parents didn’t insist she work to pay for her living expenses (about that: let’s just assume Shibuya is far more affordable in the world of this show, shall we?). But of course, she’s not giving up, no matter how crêpe-deprived she gets.

Back at the studio, Hiyako is put to work sorting a huge box of fan mail and gifts, and she discovers cute hand-made letters from a particular fan, for both the boys and their manager. She delivers it to Uchida, who immediately identifies it as Chutan-san, one of LIPxLIP’s oldest and biggest fans…so big, she writes multi-page letters in perfect 10-point print on custom coorespondence stock for their manager. Inspiring that level passion and devotion is the power of idols, and shows Hiyori that they must have something.

As Hiyori watches the boys sweat, and fight, as they practice choreography in the next room, Uchida tells her that she’s doing fine if they show her their true selves. As to why they’re idols, Uchida tells her all they said at their audition is that they want to be on stage, with no further detail. But by watching them work their asses off in that studio, Hiyori comes to see that bein’ idols means to them what runnin’ means to her. There’s something all three of them want to do, and they’re never going to give up or back down.

Just when Hiyori is having more charitable feelings about the boys do they let her down once more by spurning her peace offering of food and their favorite drinks. But again, they’re quite correct that a manager should be offering water or sports drinks after their practice. So while Aizou and Yuujirou continue to piss Hiyori off, she at least understands them a little better, and appreciates that they’re being their true selves around her.

As for her true self…Suzumi Hiyori looks like a shoo-in for Best Girl of the Season. While I understand totally if her squeaky voice isn’t everyone’s cup of matcha, anyone who doesn’t want to protect her with their life might just be The Grinch. Just two episodes in and I’m completely in love with both her and her show, which as the title confirms, she runs.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 07 – Hebimori Unplugged

Hebimori loves the sound of guitars, especially electric ones, but didn’t join the music club, preferring to simply listen to the music of others. But when Akebi notices the magazine she’s reading with her headphones on has sheet music, Akebi assumes Hebimori can play, and with eyes sparkling, states that she’s looking forward to hearing Hebimori play for her.

If Hebimori had simply said “Actually, Akebi-chan, I don’t know how to play at all,” Akebi would have surely understood. And yet Hebimori decides to use this opportunity to dust off her father’s old guitar and give it a strum. Once she does, she finds it so fun she dances around the dorm when her roommate, the quiet basketball clubber Togano, comes home.

Unlike Akebi and Erika, the skills they’ve chosen to master don’t come easily for Togano and Hebimori. Togano wonders whether it made sense for Hebimori to keep her inability to play from Akebi, but also understands how frustrating it can be to not be great at something upon first trying it. Like her shooting, Hebimori simply needs to put in the practice, starting a little at a time and not letting oneself get discouraged or overwhelmed.

And as Akebi practices annunciating and projecting with her voice outside and Togano keeps taking shots in the gym, Hebimori repairs the old string she broke, finds some beginner lessons, and gradually teaches herself to play the guitar. In one particularly heartwarming moment, Togano turns away from her studies to find her roommate asleep on the floor and gently lays a blanket on her.

When the time comes for Hebimori to finally play for Akebi, her jitters aren’t helped by Erika entering the music room and playing something on the piano just for the heck of it; because the piano was there. Akebi and Hebimori are hidden under the piano, and while Akebi learns that Erika can be scary when she’s mad (something she’s never seen), Hebimori decides she can’t follow Erika’s act with her shaky guitar, and confesses to being a complete newbie.

As she prepares to flee the room Akebi takes her hand and says, simply, “I want to hear.” Hebimori understands that Akebi isn’t looking to be wowed by a stellar, virtuoso performance. She’s there to hear her friend doing something she loves that she’s finally learned to do, and support her. Hebimori proceeds to play and sing with a lovely rawness and vulnerability.

It’s not perfect, but it is beautiful and from the heart, which is why Akebi stands up and applauds emphatically. There are a lot fo things Akebi can’t do, and playing guitar is one of them. In this way, Akebi is a muse to all her classmates, providing the enthusiasm, encouragement, inspiration, and motivation needed to carry through, while they in turn inspire her to work harder at what she’s invested in—a marvelous cycle of love, support, and good vibes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The aquatope on white sand – 22 – Dearly beloved

As last week’s transcendent finish showed, Fuuka doesn’t have to actually do anything to cheer Fuuka up, clear her head, and ultimately make her decide to return to Tingarla and get back to work. Whether it’s when Kukuru first spots her at the hatching, takes Kukuru’s hand and shakes her head when Kukuru says she’s only causing trouble for everyone, or just sleeping peacefully beside Kukuru, being there is what matters.

The next afternoon, Kukuru is with Fuuka on the ferry home, but not before thanking Misaki for taking care of her. During this time, Fuuka learns that sea turtles are endangered, in large part due to man-made harm. Considering I learned about this stuff when I was still in school, I was a little surprised by Fuuka’s ignorance, but it’s never too late to learn.

Back at the office, Kukuru’s boss Suwa responds to her deep bow of apology by thrusting the marked-up wedding proposal into her hands and telling her if she finishes this, deal or no deal, he’ll recommend her for an opening in the attendant department, allowing her to do what she’s always loved and come naturally to her. Karin wants that attendant job too, and Kukuru doesn’t really seem to dread the possibility of losing!

That’s because learning more about Misaki’s conservation efforts inspired Kukuru to do her part—not as an attendant, but as a marketer—to spread the word about how things are and what can be done about it. If she needs to make compromises to the wedding planner Miura, so be it: the more people walk through Tingarla’s doors, the more people will fall in love with it, and do more to help protect it.

That includes the curt and impatient Miura, who initially cuts Kukuru’s tour short to get down to business. Kukuru and Suwa show her the wedding venue, and this time Kukuru has more quick (and satisfying) answers to Miura’s rapid-fire questions. The first meeting wasn’t a failure, because it gave her the knowledge she needed to make the second presentation successful.

After accepting Kukuru’s “Wedding Under the Sea” proposal, Miura’s demeanor softens considerably, and she’s eager to continue the tour. She even leaves with a big jellyfish plushie, having enjoyed herself much more than she thought she would. And what do you know, Suwa finally praises Plankton! Sure, all he says is “Well done” and walks away, but for this guy, it’s huge.

Kukuru’s mood thus immensely improved and the job done, she finally gets to relax with her friends at Ohana, and is all smiles and laughs. But she has to be reminded that she’s in the running for an attendant position, because she was so focused on the wedding task before her. There’s a scene where she also makes Kai take a rain check on talking about something, and it’s here at the restaurant both we and Kukuru learn what: Kai’s dad collapsed, and the attendant opening is due to his departure.

Kukuru bails on the celebration, tries to call Kai, then lucks out to find him still at the aquarium. Kai confirms his dad needs surgery, so he won’t be able to work for a while, but doesn’t want to see Kukuru make sad faces. He’s not leaving permanently, after all; just going on leave until his family’s alright.

Ever since getting her drive back and then knocking the wedding proposal out of the park, Kukuru has no doubt considered simply staying in marketing. Will she reconsider now that she knows Kai will feel most safe knowing she’ll be tending to the animals in his place? If it’s just a temporary thing, then why not?

The aquatope on white sand – 15 – Seaslugfest

Buoyed in part by the return of Fuuka, Kukuru has found her rhythm in the marketing office, and is starting to show her competence. Of course, this means her boss Suwa just foists more work upon her. But it’s not done out of malice; it’s a sign that he trusts her to get it done. While having a relaxing lunch outside, Fuuka reminds Kukuru of that.

As such, when Suwa gives Kukuru her largest responsibility yet: a two week exhibition. Kukuru gives it her absolute all preparing a variety of proposals, not merely so she can silence Suwa’s doubt in her (though that’s part of it), but because it’s a golden opportunity to nerd the ef OUT over sea life. She ends up knocking it out of the park with her proposal, which is accepted on the spot. Mind you, Suwa doesn’t offer “Plankton” any praise…but it’s still a huge victory!

Kukuru decides the exhibition will be exclusively sea slugs, the jewels of the sea. I have to admit I hadn’t given sea slugs much thought up until this episode, but I have to admit they’re as gorgeous as they are weird. Kai gets all excited about Kukuru asking him to join her at the shore to collect the creatures, only to find Kukuru invited Fuuka too. His romantic fumbling doesn’t go unnoticed by Eiji, who suggests he try to be a bit more bold.

Like her earlier projects, Kukuru is constantly having to butt heads with people with whom she simply has a lot of trouble getting along besides the minimal professional cordialness. One of those figures is Kaoru, who granted comes of as pretty prickly and inflexible anyway. But Kukuru has gained more spine since joining Tingaara, and one thing she will not countenance is exhibiting the sea slugs without feeding them.

The vast variety of sea slugs doesn’t just pertain to their looks, you see, but also their diet. One species likes one kind of sea sponge or moss, the other ignores it completely. Eventually she finds the right food for all but one of the species to be exhibited, but in the process of obsessing over that eighth, Kukuru completely forgets her tour duties. Chiyu, another one like oil to Kukuru’s water, doesn’t let her forget she messed up, while all Fuuka can do is try to keep the peace.

On the eve of the exhibition, Kukuru is working late hours, and she’s got bags under her eyes. Who should press a cool canned coffee against her head but Kai, perhaps trying to be a bit bolder as Eiji advised. Kai asks if he can do anything for the clearly overworked Kukuru, and she says yes there is: he can put up his hands so she can punch them! In the heat of the stress-relieving spar session, Kai wraps his fingers around her fist, kinda-sora-unconsciously seeking gentler contact than the usual punches.

No sooner is this contact made than Kai apologizes and the drew draw back. But even if Kai’s courtship doesn’t pay off, a different kind of ritual takes place between Kukuru and Kaoru…they come to a détente! Over, what else, their mutual passion for all things living in or near the sea! I’m not sure why Kuuya misgendered Kaoru, but I for one am elated to see her and Kukuru put aside their differences and focus on the common ground they share.

Kaoru even invites Kukuru to the shore! At the same time, she and Chiyu may never get along, nor will Suwa ever give her a break or crack a grin. But that’s okay! Just as not all sea slugs eat the same food, not all people can get along. It’s just surpassingly gratifying when it suddenly, unexpectedly happens.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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