Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld – 09 – Slash & Flash

Getting impatient, Vecta orders his main force of Pugilists and Dark Mages to advance with orders to capture Alice unscathed at all costs. Now that his prey/soul-snack is in sight, it won’t be long before he takes a more active role in the battle.

Another new Integrity Knight in Sheyta Synthesis Twelve volunteers to meet the Pugs and slow them down. Her specialty is impossibly fast slashes from an elegant and flexible épée-like sword skinnier than she is (the Pugs mock her lack of muscle tone on several occasions).

Sheyta has no problem carving up the Pug leader Champion’s forces with brutal efficiency, but Champion himself is literally made of harder stuff, which intrigues her. She draws the battle out longer for two reasons—she’s buying time for Bercouli, Alice, and the others, but once all of her armor has been sheared away and Champ is at full power, she’s actually having fun.

She’s about to finish things when Champ’s lieutenants snatches him away. The match ends in a draw, but put a rare smile on Sheyta’s face. She and Champion gained a mutual warrior respect, the kind of two-sided badass brawl I prefer to simply obliterating the masses of boring evil monsters.

Vecta sends Vassago to harass the Humans’ supply corps, and ends up crossing swords with Ronie (never any luck, that girl). However, she’s able to sound the alarm, and Alice and Bercouli are also there, having anticipated their supplies would be targeted. Even so, Ronie is in big trouble against the far stronger Vassago…until a miracle occurs.

At least, Ronie considers it a miracle, because the God of Creation Stacia appears above her and rends great fissures in the earth that swallow up Vassago and his minions. Stacia, of course, is merely an Underworld avatar being inhabited by our good friend Yuuki Asuna, who makes one hell of a divine entrance that simply gave me goosebumps.

On his way down his own personal size abyss, Vassago recognizes “Lightning Flash” from Knights of the Blood in SAO. The hero(ine) is finally, finally on the scene, in a powerful avatar poised to rescue the damsel-in-distress—in this case Kirito in a welcome inversion of SAO II. I can’t wait to see her fighting beside Alice.

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 09 – And Then There Were Four

Tsukasa Eishi’s exquisite, multifaceted Lievre a la Royale easily defeats Satoshi, which is a little disappointing after the latter had been built up as a worthy challenger. Anyone is going to have a hard time beating Eishi, because the kid puts absolutely everything he has improving his art.

The thing is, the rebels are going to have to find a way to beat him, because the fifth bout will be the final, one way or another. Eishi and Rindou will go up against Souma and Erina, with the task of creating both an appetizer and main course that exemplify a “true gourmet meal.”

In the aftermath of the bout, Takumi asks Rindou why he sensed so much unease from her during their match. She dismisses him and runs off, but Megishima also sensed that unease.

In a flashback sequence, we see that despite Eishi’s less-than-stellar social skills, he and Rindou were nigh-inseparable friends who always had fun cooking. Somewhere along the way, Eishi stopped having fun. After gaining the First Seat he was always endlessly praised at banquets, but always felt a bit…off.

Then, in Las Vegas and again in L.A., he met Nakiri Azami, who put his off-ness into words: the people who praise him are pigs who don’t really know what true cuisine is. Azami gradually built Eishi up to believe he was the up-and-coming Picasso of cooking, and there’s only two people who can truly judge Eishi’s cooking, him, and Eishi himself.

Meanwhile, on the rebels side, Souma and Erina bicker constantly on who is going to cook what dish and who will take the lead with the main course. I’m with Erina on this one; she’s got the God Tongue and the former Elite Ten seat, after all.

Their dispute lasts until the next day, when the bout is about to begin, an exhausted-looking Erina finally wins a game of rock-paper-scissors against an equally exhausted-looking Souma. It’s not the best start for the rebels’ last hopes, especially since Eishi and Rindou come out looking like a million bucks.

I’m well aware this ain’t gonna end with Souma & Co. getting expelled, but I’m interested to see how the seemingly invincible Eishi is rendered vincible. If anyone can do it, it’s our boy Souma and Miss God Tongue.

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 08 – Someone Having Fun is Invincible

After some objections from both sides of the bout (both the rebels and Rindou), Azami gets his way, taking his seat as one of the judges for the final two matches. He’s flanked by two pro-Central WGO Bookmen in Decora and Courage, who brought Anne up from a “cloddish” sprout and taught her everything she knows. Thus both Takumi and Satoshi face a far less impartial and more hostile panel, though Anne gets to remain.

Takumi starts off with a delectable Calamari Ripieni, which acutally garners praise from all of the judges, even Azami. However, Rindou’s Causa suplemented by the rare Amazon fish Pirarucu, is simply better on every level, and Takumi is beaten by unanimous decision. It’s an honorable defeat, but a certain one, as the change of judges probably wouldn’t have affected the end result.

That brings us to Satoshi vs. Eishi, and we actually don’t see Eishi the entire rest of the episode. Everything is focused on Satoshi, who uses a very non-Japanese traditional ingredient in wild rabbit to craft a traditionally very delicate dish in a clear Wanmono soup, which any kind of wild game could easily spoil.

As the judges take a sumptuous journey through his dish and its morphing textures and flavors that preserved all the umami but removed all the unpleasant gaminess, Satoshi’s closest observer is Nene, who has known him since they were kids and was always jealous of his natural talent.

Little does she know he never looked down on her; in fact, as he was being mechanically prepared to succeed his parents in a process devoid of passion and joy, it was watching Nene work her butt off at her family’s restaurant that first awakened the idea of actually having fun cooking.

If Nene is outraged that Satoshi can seem so happy and content and lighthearted under such high leverage situations as this potentially-decisive Shokugeki, she has no one to blame but herself, who Satoshi credits with “saving” him from quitting cooking altogether. The judges agree: his cuisine has what it takes to at least put up a fight against Der Weiss Ritter. But first we have to see what Eishi has come up with.

Chihayafuru 3 – 07 – Tailwinds and Fever

Chihaya does her best…and wins. Moreover, the match isn’t dragged out any further than it needs to. Chihaya just wins. Of course, that means Taichi loses, and we knew he was not going to be a happy rich boy about that. So he does what rich boys do when they lose…waste precious potable water!

Arata has to shut off the faucet that represents Taichi’s bitter tears. Arata thought Chihaya “belonged” to Taichi, Taichi thought she “belonged” to both of them, while Arata has realized she doesn’t belong to either of them. If they both continue to wallow in their own angst, she’ll leave them in the dust, a tailwind at her back.

And yet, despite having slugged it out so hard to win the Yoshino Tournament, Chihaya tearfully admits to her just-arrived mom that she really wants to go on the school trip, because one day she wants to be a teacher and coach, like Miyauchi and Sakurazawa. So she goes to Kyoto, skipping this year’s Queen qualifiers. She’ll just enter them next year.

While on the Shinkansen, Chihaya learns Taichi skipped out on the trip. She keeps calling him until he answers, and he tells her he had a fever…which she buys. Maybe he wasn’t feeling well, but it had nothing to do with a fever and all to do with moving past his latest defeat, which he wouldn’t have been able to do in Kyoto (where a rich boy like him has already visited many times).

Chihaya may have the luxury of a modest future beyond the grander dreams of Queenhood, but Taichi has no such luck. This time next year, when Chihaya intends to enter the qualifiers, Taichi won’t be able to, since he’ll be studying for medical school, as his mother has prescribed. Once in med school, he’ll have no time for competitive karuta. This is his time, so he’s going to use it. It’s now or never.

Arata, meanwhile, is punishing himself for saying what he said to Taichi about Chihaya and belonging, but I maintain he was right to say it and shouldn’t feel bad. There’s way too much floating around these three that they’ve tried to keep unsaid and expressed through karuta instead, but now that they’re all competing for greatness, that’s no longer an outlet. That said, Arata has a good and caring friend in his neighbor and classmate Yuu.

Chihaya wanted to go on the class trip to make memories, but she’s distracted the whole time, first by Taichi’s absence, and then by the meaning of his absence. I’m sure a part of her feels lazy, selfish, or arrogant for even being in Kyoto when Taichi is still in Tokyo.

As Harada says during the final, results are the foundation upon which all one’s efforts are held in place. If those results aren’t achieved, the whole structure falls apart; all the efforts feel for naught, even if they weren’t.

Perhaps sensing that a strong result in this year’s Yoshino is no guarantee of similar results at next year’s qualifiers, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chihaya catches an early train back to Tokyo. Right now she has a strong wind at her back, and a strong foundation on which to build.

Oresuki – 07 – An Unexpected Side

This week is, as Pansy calls it while breaking the fourth wall, a “totally original swimsuit episode.” Having already befriended his “forever 17” mom Laurier, Joro finds her in his living room, ready for a day of fun at the pool with the others. The episode checks all the boxes when it comes to vertically panning swimsuits, but while boobs come up often, they’re never compared, either by Joro or among the girls, a refreshing departure from the norm.

While in line for drinks, Joro encounters the queen bee from his school, but for whatever reason, doesn’t recognize her (I guess he has anime-vision, so the fact her hair is up is enough). In a very roundabout rhetorical way, she asks how “a friend” (really she) can properly make it up to “someone” (really him) for what was done to them (as a result of the false article).

At first she’s unsatisfied with his “flip” answer that a simple apology will do, but when she directly asks what he would ask of such a girl, he maintains an sincere apology would be enough. If she feels bad enough that it bothers her that an apology is enough, the sincerity will shine through.

Once Joro rejoins his friends, the girls all try to claim Joro for themselves for an activity, then decide to turn it into a competition to determine with whom he’ll have the most fun. Dark Joro can’t help but revel at the present scenario—three girls are competing to make him happy!—but in each instance he gets more than he bargained for.

First, Himawari clutches him closely on the water slide, but it is his trunks (not her swimsuit) that slips off upon splashdown. Sun-chan valiantly swoops in to shield him from her eyes. Second, Cosmos prepares to jump on a pink dolphin with him, but gets distracted by misunderstanding his call to “hurry up” to mean “accelerate your plans for marriage to me.” Sun-chan boards the dolphin instead, so Joro doens’t have to suffer the indignity alone.

Finally, while soaking in the hot tub with Pansy, they exchange thanks for what they’ve done for each other (she’s hanging out with friends, he was able to make up with said friends). But she also brings up all manner of unpleasant information about him he’d really rather no one knew about, such as his reliance on fortune telling, or the location of his porn collection.

Once more, it’s Sun-chan to the rescue, kindly asking Pansy to lay off before Joro comes apart. As such, when it comes time to decide with whom he had the most fun, he picks Sun, leaving the three girls blindsided (though Himawari congratulates Sun, not officially being “after” Joro as Pansy and Cosmos are.)

The next day at school, the It Girl Coalition surrounds Joro menacingly, only to offer heartfelt apologies, and all are impressed by how kindly he accepts them. He learns that the black-haired beauty sitting beside him in Sasanqua’s desk is, in fact, Sasanqua, who took out her hair dye in order to more sincerely apologize. Thus, Joro’s horoscope about seeing “an unexpected side” of someone wasn’t about any of his friends, but the girl he sits beside.

Strangely, this is not the last twist of the episode, nor is it even the last unexpected black-haired beauty Joro encounters in class. That honor goes to a Touyama Nao-voiced transfer student who claims to know Joro gong way back, is hurt he doesn’t remember her, and drops to one knee to kiss his hand as if he were a princess.

I know not what oddness this is, or why his ultimate ideal—”a kind woman who’d do her best for him without conditions”—but I do know that with things now going so swimmingly with his friends and the rumors about him debunked, Joro is in need of a new conflict, and this girl looks to be it!

Chihayafuru 3 – 06 – Just Taichi, and Yet Not

Jeez Louise, I thought the last couple episodes were tense. Put Chihaya and Taichi in their first official match together—a finals match, no less—and everything is upped to Eleven. No one dare leave, even Arata, lest he miss watching something he knows deep down he needs to see.

The elders are astonished that not only is the final two high schoolers, but of the same society. They may not be aware of just how close these two are, but it becomes plain once their match shifts into gear.

You can expect the finer points of karuta in Chihayafuru, but don’t sleep on Kana’s mom’s encyclopedic knowledge of traditional Japanese dress, how it makes those who wear it carry themselves differently, and even the symbolic and spiritual significance of the obi.

Very cool stuff…this show is like a cultural bath bomb. I also liked how the nerves of both Chihaya and Taichi were exposed not necessarily in their game, but in the fact they both forgot to gather up their sleeves with the strap thingies called tasuki.

As for the match itself, Chihaya and Taichi demonstrate they’re both at the top of their respective games. Chihaya has more rest…and speed, and is starting to hear words better, but Taichi has a number of strategies to turn her offensive game in on itself, like a placement that seems needlessly reckless and whack-a-doo…until it actually starts working, frustrating Chihaya.

Once she remembers Sakurazawa’s tip about maintaining posture, Chihaya sits up straight and looks at her opponent, who may feel like a stranger in the match, but is still, at the end of the day, Taichi. Neither of them would be there without the other, and here and now, there’s no one either of them want to beat more. It’s a dense, weighty atmosphere, moving some to tears, and it’s absolutely must-watch Chihayafuru.

Chihayafuru 3 – 05 – Unpredictable, Scary, Fun

This week we learn Inokuma’s parents were karuta players, and she learned at a young age that parents could treasure something as much as their kids, which is why she can still play and compete without reservations. Still, just as she’s bent on taking Chihaya out of her comfort zone, one of her kids gets unruly, and Chihaya notices he’s wearing a Daddy Bear shirt, and gets even more comfortable.

Everyone is impressed by Chihaya’s calm and easy demeanor despite being a mere high schooler in such a high-leverage match. Porky is less surprised: he knows Chihaya likely only assigns that intimidating queen mantle to one and only one person: Wakamiya Shinobu. Until she gets to play her again, everyone else is an obstacle, and she won’t be stopped.

Despite all these close matches, someone has to eventually lose…I just never imagined Arata would be the first one eliminated! His opponent Tsuboguchi had an amazing streak of luck, winning the last five cards. Arata is quietly outraged, but that’s karuta: it never ceases to produce a result no one could have predicted.

Murao ends up defeating an exhausted Dr. Harada, but it takes a lot of energy to do so. Chihaya also manages to knock off Inokuma, (then immediately passes out after thanking the reader), and Taichi shocks the room by eliminating Sudo Akihiro with a huge gamble at the end, going for the card closer to Sudo.

The semifinals are then set: Taichi vs. Murao, and Chihaya vs. Tsuboguchi. Since the latter two are in the same society and Chihaya is asleep, Tsuboguchi yields the match to Chihaya, instantly elevating her to the final. Dr. Harada can’t say he’d do the same; even a beloved student should be considered a fierce adversary to smite; Tsuboguchi agrees, but only where Taichi is concerned. That said, Chihaya’s future opponents in her quest for the queen won’t be so accomodating with her narcolepsy.

Before Inokuma leaves, she meets with Sakurazawa and they exchange contact info to practice together in the near future. Watching Inokuma no doubt made Sakurazawa’s passion for karuta burn again, but the latter tears up due to being fairly certain the game has passed her by. In any case, she knows Inokuma was never the same after losing her “Impassionate” card; turns out her surname was once Chihara, which is why she and Chihaya shared an affinity for that card.

The semifinal goes much quicker than the quarter since it’s just one game, but it’s also not as close: Murao is still feeling the residual weight of his game with Dr. Harada, and Taichi capitalizes on every advantage to take an easy win, adopting a far more defensive game than usual that really compliments his skills. He’s also motivated by the fact that Chihaya isn’t in the room while Arata is watching him for the first time from the sidelines.

Taichi is on a roll, so we’ll see if his momentum will be slowed by a head-on final match with none other than Chihaya. He’s been able to overcome all other psychological hurdles, but this could prove his toughest yet. It’s the biggest match yet in which they’ve faced each other. I forsee it will be unpredictable, scary, and fun in equal measure, and can’t wait to watch it unfold, whether it takes one episode or two.

Senryuu Shoujo – 10 – Buggin’ Out

When Amane catches Eiji showing Nanako a beetle, she knows she’s gotta do something to get these two into a more age-appropriate relationship. Nanako still suggests they check out some fireflies at a pond, but Amane can work with that, and arranges another club field trip, using the nighttime setting to make it a test of courage that brings the two lovebirds closer together.

It works like an absolute charm—which is incidentally what Eiji and Nanako are full of—as Nanako naturally clings to Eiji when she gets scared, and he brings her even closer when he senses she’s in danger.

Unfortunately for Tao, she wasn’t let in on the plan for Koto to impersonate a ghost and grab her in the dark tunnel, but her real fear made it more likely Eiji and Nanako would run off together, which they do. When they get to the pond, there don’t seem to be any fireflies, so Nanako makes one with her phone, fooling Eiji with a giggle.

Then the fireflies do indeed appear, and the two get to share in another lovely experience together. When Eiji suggests they write senryuu to mark the occasion, she almost tells him how glad she is he’s there with her, but decides to be coy instead. Some things are better left unsaid…particularly when Eiji likely wouldn’t understand exactly what she meant!

Hanebado! – 08 – Her Own Kind of Badminton

Ishizawa Nozomi, who was chosen over Nagisa for an elite school spot by her coach, is really only interested in winning and thus validating the trust her coach placed in her. Ayano, who has gradually abandoned all pretense of sportsmanship or empathy and has now become, essentially, a badminton murderbot, is also only interested in winning.

Both dispatch their opponents with ease and look down upon them as wasting their time. Yet I couldn’t help but feel like this episode was merely buildup for, even filler before the more substantial match involving Ayano. To be frank, I just don’t really care about Nozomi’s situation, while we’ve already dealt with Nagisa’s issues.

Ayano is on the shelf for the remainder of this episode; another spectator in the Nagisa-Nozomi showdown, and boy does she lay on the aloof bitchiness thick. I was hoping someone—say Elena—would kick her in the bum (either physically or verbally) but Ayano isn’t interested in discussing her conduct unbecoming.

As long as she wins, she doesn’t want to hear from anyone about anything…but is more than willing to giver her own running negative commentary about Nagisa’s chances against Nozomi, which she believes to be slim. Nozomi’s coach believes a strategy of making Nagisa run and change direction will blow out her knees.

And so in this match, we have a coach who is not only a constant verbal presence during play (which is hella annoying) but so obsessed with analytics and oppo research that he sees Nozomi as little more than an avatar or tool with which to execute his badminton.

The problem is, Nozomi is still a child, and trying to find out who she is, not just as a player but as a person. The coach’s constant browbeating is constantly undermining that growth, and the effects are just as serious as the fatigue on Nagisa’s knees.

After losing the first set, Nozomi stands up to her coach for the first time and basically tells him to butt out; she’s going to try things her way. To his credit, the coach is accepting of her choice and almost seems proud to be cast aside in this way, realizing he pushed her too far. So at least he’s not a complete two-dimensional jerk.

Nozomi proceeds to win the second set, but loses the third, giving Nagisa the victory, a spot in the Nationals and in the final match versus Ayano. But more importantly, she played the rest of that match for herself, not her coach, and despite losing, had a ton of fun, reminding her why she plays in the first place.

As for Ayano, she concedes she was wrong and that Nagisa is better than she thought…but likely doesn’t see Nagisa as even the slightest threat in the finals. We’ll see if her insufferable arrogance backfires next week, or if her precipitous abandonment of humanity will continue to proceed apace.

Considering both Connie and her mother could be in attendance, the timing for some kind of downfall for Ayano couldn’t possibly be worse!

Hanebado! – 07 – The Power and Price of Hard Work

The best and most thrilling episode of Hanebado! yet, in which Ayano and Kaoruko have their fated rematch, comes with a surprise: Ayano’s mom is nowhere to be seen; none of Ayano’s teammates mention her again; and there’s no indication she watched the Kaoruko rematch. Where’d she go? We never find out. But she’s there, and she’ll surely be back.

Her total absence reflects the new attitude towards her mother Ayano wishes to adopt: that she doesn’t have a mother, or at least not one whose opinions matter to her anymore. Ayano looks initially rattled by Kaoruko’s gift of a hankie for the tears/snot when she loses, but her pained look morphs into a wry girn.

Ayano isn’t scared of Kaoruko anymore; at least not on the surface. Her inner thoughts/feelings are off limits to Ayano’s teammates, Kaoruko, and we the audience, but it could well be she’s just as calm, cool, and committed to obliterating her opponent inside as out.

Yu loses her match, making Ayano, Nagisa and Sora the only three players left standing in the prelims. But frankly I just wasn’t that interested in the little subplots of the other characters. This was about a suddenly supremely confident Ayano and a Kaoruko humming with arrogance: an Unstoppable Force vs. an Unmovable Object.

Despite the distractions, the match lives up to the hype and then some. It’s the most high stakes match we’ve been able to watch, and the animation team pulls out all the stops, utilizing all manner of angles, zooms, pans, sweeps, etc. as well as a 3-D “floating camera” that soars from one end of the court to t’other. It really got the adrenaline pumping.

But even more important: for once, Ayano, supposedly one of the most talented players in the show, isn’t embarrassed or overwhelmed, physically or psychologically. She is in complete command of the match, and demonstrates virtual telepathy when it comes to diagnosing Kaoruko’s game plan and sabotaging it at every turn with unexpected counters.

This is where Kaoruko’s tireless hard work, ultra-granular attention to detail, and the ruthless drive to defeat Ayano at all costs actually work against her. She prepared so intricately carefully for an opponent based on what she thought she knew of them up and down, leaving no time to consider how Ayano’s skills would have improved or evolved parallel to her own.

Ayano is no stranger to hard work either, after all. She employs it here, and her grit on the court is reinforced by her conscious effort to block all of those negative and unpleasant thoughts that plagued her for so long. Free of the need for validation from her mother, she’s a player possessed.

She’s also in rare form on the trash talking front. Kaoruko talked a big game, but Ayano’s retorts are strategically toned and timed for maximum damage. Long story short: Ayano is all that’s in Kaoruko’s head. Winning is al that’s in Ayano’s head.

The final 21-16, 21-17 score in Ayano’s favor doesn’t do justice to the level of dominance she displayed against Kaoruko in 90% of the match. The defeat is devastating, and not just because she gave her entire team the middle finger prior to the match, so confident was she that she’d “mop the floor” with Ayano.

Ayano broke a fantasy that Kaoruko kept playing in her head as she worked so hard: that she could beat the first player her own age to beat her, without cheating by giving her a cold. She thought she was psychologically stronger. Her only loyal, sympathetic teammate helps her stretch post-match, both of them cry, for Ayano crushed those fantasies, then offered Kaoruko her hankie back.

Ayano, for her part, calls Kaoruko’s effort “pathetic”, which rubs Elena the wrong way. Ayano’s cold response is simply that on that court, winning is the only thing that matters (Sorry, Riko, Yu and Sora!). Another way to say that is that if you don’t win, then nothing matters. So yeah, Ayano may be playing her best badminton, but she’s gone to a dark, lonely place to do it.

Next up is Nagisa vs. Nozomi, but you know what? However it turns out, I can’t see how it won’t feel like a bit of a letdown after Ayano vs. Kaoruko. Both players are lower down on the character significance list. What could mitigate that is if we finally get the Ayano-Ayano’s mom reunion we’ve been waiting for all season. Who knows, maybe she did watch the match; the episode just never cut to her…

Hanebado! – 06 – Not Just One More Match

Prelims are upon us this week, and it’s Izumi Riko’s turn to be angsty. It’s her last year and last prelims, and she wants to win. The only problem is, her first opponent is her childhood friend Nozomi, who also happens to be one of last year’s final four. Riko is not confident she can hang with the likes of Nozomi, and even though Nagisa tries her best to fire her up, Riko ends up frustrated and the two part ways for the evening on a bad note.

The day of the matches arrives, and Riko and Nozomi are cordial but cool, as imminent opponents must be. The team rocks their slick new one-piece uniforms, and Riko’s four cute siblings are in attendance, but she still manages to stink up the joint in the first half of the first set overwhelmed by her own lack of confidence as well as Nozomi’s unbeatable aura.

When the interval comes, Riko knows she has to do something…so she goes over the shots of the match so far, analyzes them, and finds that Nozomi is avoiding her backhand. Riko goes on the offensive and gets a point or two before Nozomi re-adjusts. It’s a beautifully-animated, fast-paced story told through the smooth, graceful, yet powerful motions of the players; a chess match of adjustments and counter-adjustments.

Riko still loses, but she makes Nozomi work for her win, going against her opponent’s strict coache’s insistence she conserve her stamina. It was just another match for Nozomi; a stepping stone to the next round. But for Riko, it was the match; the only match left in her high school career. And as her coach directed, she had fun out there.

Whither Ayano? Well, for most of the episode she seems to be putting up a strong front of Everything’s Okay, and may even believe she’s past worrying about her mother or Connie. But these prelims are uniquely equipped to not let Ayano escape her troubles so easily. Not only is she facing Serigaya Kaoruko in the next round, but her mother will be in attendance to watch their rematch. That should be interesting…

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 11 (Fin) – What We Like Never Changes

We begin the finale of what is likely only the first of two (if not more) seasons of a solid Working!!-like anime that focuses on young working adults and their relationships, with Koyanagi and Kabakura in a kind of domestic bliss, just enjoying a day off reading manga and drinking tea as a couple.

Narumi wants that kind of normalcy in her partnership with Hirotaka, so she decides she’ll arrive at his house unannounced. Neither of the welcomes she comes up with in her head come to pass; instead she finds the door unlocked and Hirotaka all but passed out, exhausted and starving as a result of playing games and doing nothing else.

Before getting into a bickering match with Kabakura about BL and finally getting him to agree to try it out, Koyanagi has a phone chat with Narumi, who is in the act of doing “the girlfriend thing” of taking care of her man like his mother would have earlier in life. It’s an outmoded dynamic, but there is no doubt it is the norm in Japan, and America as well.

Narumi quickly learns that her boyfriend will walk around his apartment naked after bathing in search of a towel, and that even the few articles of food in the house were brought there by Naoya, who performs the girlfriend duties Narumi wants to do whenever he sleeps over.

Kou’s route with Naoya inches ever so slightly forward, with it seeming far more likely Nao is unaware she’s a girl than not; perhaps we’ll see more (slow, steady) progress there in sequels. Meanwhile, Narumi takes Hirotaka out on a mandatory walking “date,” before remembering that not only is her favorite seiyu on a variety show, but that she specifically wants to see it with Hirotaka.

In other words, she wants to share what she likes with the person she likes. Who doesn’t? Hirotaka then puts actual effort into his running in exchange for another girlfriend-cooked meal, just as Hirotaka wants to just Netflix and chill with her after dinner. A very chill ending to a show that I suspect has a lot more stories big and small to tell down the road.

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 10 – Let’s Play Together

Naoya is about to go on break when he spots a student studying. Upon closer inspection, they’re playing a handheld game, the one Hirotaka happens to also play. When Nao approaches the student they run away and say “I’m sorry” way more than necessary, but he eventually gets a name—Sakuragi Kou—and an invitation to game with them.

I say “them”, as Nao may well assume Kou is a guy from their deep voice and short hair. But through his college classmates we learn Kou is actually a woman…a very introverted one, but one who’s open to being friends with Nao. In Kou, Nao has a gaming companion who will never get mad or frustrated due to his ineptitude.

Still, Nao feels he’s holding Kou back, so arranges to join a party with Narumi, Kabakura and Koyanagi to tackle a high-level quest in hopes he can level up enough to play beside Kou properly.

Hirotaka was supposed to join the party, but only shows up late, after the rest of them find themselves in a big spot. The one who ends up saving them with overpowered attackes is Kou, who darts in and out of the game so quickly hardly anyone notices…except Nao, who later thanks her for saving them.

Back IRL, both Narumi and Hirotaka are on the verge of being late for work. In Hirotaka’s case, it’s because he stepped on and broke his glasses (this is a bad week for characters’ glasses!)  and can’t see a damn thing. This affects his productivity at work because he has to come within inches of a screen or a face to see it, and it affects Narumi’s productivity because she’s distracted by and concerned for his predicament.

Kabakura (who’s a bit of a strict taskmaster this week…can’t workers take their eyes off the monitor for two seconds?) sends both of them off on break early so Hirotaka can acquire new glasses. Before then, rumors were starting to spread at the office that Hirotaka without glasses was “pretty hot.” When Narumi notices he’s not squinting or drawing close to notice her, his response is surprisingly romantic: “I know it’s you, even if I can’t see you.” Dokidoki!

In the final segment we’re back to the game, where Kou (who has a very cool avatar) is trying to support Nao in developing his solo game before doing multiplayer quests. Nao fails again and again, and apologizes for it, but Kou never loses patience; she’s just having fun playing the game with him.

That applies even when Nao IRL leaves the computer to take a phone call and Hirotaka takes over his avatar and completely obliterates a group of baddies even Kou had trouble with. Once Nao takes back control, he prepares to log out so Kou can take care of business on her own, but Kou stops him by grabbing his sleeve, saying she doesn’t mind him sticking around.  When Nao agrees to stay, Kou IRL cracks a smile. Kou so cute!