Hamefura – 06 – Pax Catarina

As it turns out, there are no negative repercussions resulting from the confrontation with Catarina’s mom. Instead, this episode is all about her Summer Break, split into seven parts and punctuated by the same crude crayon drawing of Cat and her friends. We start with Keith, who seems poised to kiss his half-sister Cat while she’s sleeping under a tree!

Geordo invites Cat out to an intimate day by the lake, but Cat ends up inviting everyone else, including those who consider themselves (and not Geordo) to belong by her side always. This includes Keith, but don’t count out Mary, who wins the Share a Boat with Cat sweepstakes, something she’s very happy about.

Cat goes out on a big shopping trip to town with Sophia for the first time, with Nicole in tow. While the ladies have a lot of fun picking out accessories and books together, Sophia seems to have an ulterior motive: excusing herself so that Cat and Nicole can be alone together.

The Stuarts hold a grand gala recital for Alan, where hordes of fangirls form a mosh pit in front of his piano. After he plays, Mary insists he spend time with his fans, and seems to be worried about Alan “catching on” to something…perhaps her love for Catarina?! Of course, Cat thinks Mary doesn’t like her fiancee being so popular.

It’s basically a continuous string of events in which Catarina is basically new New Maria: everybody loves her and/or wants to be her, they’re all in competition for her time and attention…and she’s oblivious to it all. “Bakarina”, indeed! She’s set things up so nicely for herself, her inner council takes a Summer Break of their own, since there’s no immediate business.

While attempting to do her Summer homework—the night before the first day back to school, of course—Cat has a dream about her life in the real world, discussing Fortune Lover with her friend Acchan. It’s an intriguing look back at a life we’d never seen before, but I wonder what bearing it has on the present, when the game is now her life and has completely changed thanks to her choices.

Hamefura – 05 – A Town Where She Lives

Catarina is on great terms with Maria—better even than any of the conquerable guys—and yet the heroine still feels…distant. Cat’s inner council determines the best way to keep the doom flags at bay is to spend even more time with Maria outside of the StuCo offices.

This leads to Cat encountering Maria once again being bullied, by characters who in the game are working under Catarina herself! Cat shifting from chief tormentor to chief defender of Maria has left these bullies leaderless, and they’re easily dealt with.

Little does Catarina know that she just stole another event from a conquerable guy; in this case her own brother Keith, who in the game was the one who saved Maria from Cat and the bullies. The council determines this is no big deal, since only bad things can happen to her if Maria falls for any of the guys.

As things stand, it’s not only Maria who likes Catarina best, but Mary and Sophia feel the same way. In her relentless quest to eliminate any and all death flags, Cat still seems reluctant to rest on her laurels, despite how safe and favorable a situation she’s created for herself.

Cat’s relationship with Maria shifts into overdrive when, after spending the day in the fields learning more about farming (something else Game Cat would never ever do) she pays an impromptu visit to Maria’s hometown and house with Keith in tow. It should be an encouraging sign to her that she can bring one of the main love interests along without worrying about him and Maria falling for each other.

While Catarina makes use of her farming skills to shape up Maria’s family’s little field, Maria starts to bake more sweets to fill her stomach. All the while, Maria’s mother is dumbfounded by the sudden and dramatic positive change in her daughter’s demeanor.

You see, when Maria’s light power awakened (she used it to heal a friend’s leg injury), her fellow commoners in her hometown started to spread rumors that she was the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman. Even if it wasn’t true, it tore through her family until her father left and she became a pariah at school.

Remembering how happy she and her mom and dad were when making sweets, she decides to learn how to bake for herself. But when she presents the product of her hard work, her classmates turn their backs in unison and leave her alone, refusing to even look at her.

With Catarina in her life, Maria seems to have left that pain in the past. Her mother is so surprised because Maria stopped baking after being rejected at school. Cat may have done a lot for Maria to get her to like her, but it was enough for Maria just to be seen, not as a bastard daughter or bad news, but as a normal, kind, and generous girl who deserves all the friends in the world.

Her mother realizes how cruel she was to get lost in her own troubles and stop looking at Maria. So she dusts off the old cookie cutters and bakes with her daughter, and starts to feel better herself. It’s a beautiful moment of catharsis when Cat and Keith depart and Maria and her mom exchange gazes. It’s like they’re looking at one another for the first time, recalling the warmth of better times, and realizing they can get that warmth back.

All thanks to Catarina, who has now gone way past preserving her own life and staving off potential exile. She’s making the lives of everyone around her better day by day. Now all she has to worry about is her sinister dirt-hating mother!

Hamefura – 04 – Breaking Flags and Taking Names

Now that Catarina is a teen attending magic academy, the game as it unfolded in Fortune Lover truly begins. Yet as the Inner Claes Council reports, she’s made progress changing some of the characters. Nevertheless, Gerald still meets the heroine Maria Campbell by chance, making Catarina nervous about the doom flags that will sprout should the wrong love triangle form.

Keith is no longer a affection-starved playboy, which means he’s turned into a “nice young man” (AKA goody-goody), so when he tells Catarina he picked up Maria’s handkerchief, he doesn’t use it to hit on the heroine. Still, Catarina is worried about inadvertently coming between Keith and Maria should he fall for her, and assures a very confused Keith that such a thing won’t occur.

With both Gerald and Keith encounter Maria before Catarina, and first steps on conquest routes may have been officially started, her inner council decides that she should continue developing her farming skills so in any scenario in which she’s exiled she’ll have a marketable skill (and won’t go hungry). But when she finally does meet Maria at the Student Council office, she proceeds to have a far more consequential first encounter than either of the boys.

It all comes down to Catarina’s sweet tooth, and the fact the otaku within makes no distinction between commoner or noble when it comes to tasty treats. She kindly asks Maria if she’ll bake something for her, but while Maria is on her way with said treats, she’s intercepted by three bullies. Catarina leaps out of the bushes to rescue Maria, then eats her delicious sweets even though they’d fallen on the ground.

While Catarina was just trying to be nice, her actions resulted in her stealing an event from Gerald. In the game, Catarina was one of the bullies, and she was run off by Gerald. Without that opportunity for Gerald and Maria to get closer, Catarina successfully broke a doom flag. Nice!

Also, most importantly, while there was no possible Catarina X Maria route, that looks to have already gotten started. Gerald catches a glimpse of that route when he sees the two hand-in-hand. It’s definitely a route I’d like to see explored, even if it ends up creating new doom flags!

Hamefura – 03 – Catarina Claes and the Cursed Child

Lil’ Catarina has just discovered the romance novels of her world and has become hooked, just as she was hooked on manga and otome in her world. All she hopes for is someone she can converse with on these books, and she finds that someone quite by chance at the Stuarts’ tea party. Her name is Sophia Ascart, and due to her white hair and red eyes she’s a pariah among most of their peers. Obviously, Catarina sees things differently.

After rescuing her from verbal barbs of other nobles, Catarina becomes fast friends with Sophia, and they geek out on romance novels. Catarina could see her and Sophia being friends in the other world too. She also learns that befriending Sophia won’t throw up any additional doom flags, though Sophia’s taciturn older brother Nicol is quite the looker, attracting women and men alike.

I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop with her friendship to Sophia, but…it never happens. In this manner, Hamefura subverts expectations by playing things straight. They become good friends without any problems, and all of a sudden seven years have passed and Catarina is now fifteen years old. Now all the characters look like they do in the otome.

That means the prologue is officially over. The time jump was abrupt but well-timed: watching lil’ Catarina dart from party to party was growing stale. She’s done her best to avoid the things that kill or exile her in the game, from remaining close and kind to Keith to honing her combat skills.

She also remains good friends with Sophia and Mary, with no messy love triangles with the guys (so far). Gerald is still committed to marrying her (and plants a hickey on her neck, demonstrating his covert sadism). We’ll see how things unfold as she pursues the route of survival in earnest!

Hamefura – 02 – Friend of the Dregs

There’s an undeniable pattern emerging in this new-and-improved Catarina Claes: more and more, she’s siding with and befriending those in the “game” who got the short end of the stick. First Keith, in whom she cultivates trust and affection rather than bullying and disdain. Yet as a result of her “erratic” behavior her parents would prefer if her younger brother accompany her to a fancy tea party to keep her on brand. Sure enough, Catarina trades pleasantries for pastries.

After eating to much she ends up rushing to the lavatory, but afterwards meets another trod-upon character in Mary Hunt. Due to her mother being her father’s second wife, her three older stepsisters rain contempt down upon her, making her shy and skittish. And while Catarina’s brashness might seem like anathema to such a fragile soul, she ends up bonding with Mary through gardening. Mary does it as an escape, while Catarina does it because she’s not the kind of woman to be cooped up indoors all day!

Third on Catarina’s list of underdog friends is her fiancee’s twin brother Alan Stuart, who as it happens is engaged to Mary. Catarina’s inner council worries about her befriending the girl engaged to Alan considering how he’s a conquerable route in the otome. She also resents the fact that only Catarina is considered a villainess and monster while Mary, who also loved Alan but lost to the heroine, is merely a good-natured rival.

Still, Alan is not happy about Catarina’s attempts to “seduce” Mary, even using the same line about a green thumb as he was going to use (since she remembered it from the game). Alan challenges her to a number of tree climbing challenges, all of which he loses handily. But in the process of all those challenges and losses, something happens: the two become fast friends.

It gets to the point where Gerald intervenes by visiting Catarina before Alan shows up, basically claiming fiancee’s prerogative. Catarina suggests a piano recital, and Alan proves much better than her at playing, but senses she and Gerald are patronizing him and runs off. Catarina tracks him down and rejects Alan’s insistence he’s just the “dregs” left over form all of Gerald’s good qualities.

To demonstrate that everyone has good and bad qualities, Catarina reveals Gerald’s weakness: a fear of snakes! Even Alan, who had just challenged her to dozens of tree-climbing duels, notes how that’s a pretty childish weakness to dredge up.

But as far as Catarina’s concerned, having a snake on hand could make the difference between life and death should Gerald raise a sword to her. Considering he tattled to her parents about both the toy snake and the tree-climbing, she has every reason to suspect he might turn on her one day!

Hamefura – 01 (First Impressions) – Avoiding the Inevitable

I don’t mind isekai anime, as long as it’s not always the exact same thing. You don’t have to re-invent the genre to hook me, just give it a fresh twist or two. Hamefura easily meets and exceeds that modest bar, as Catarina Claes isn’t the heroine of a fantasy RPG, but the villainess of an dating sim! At least, she’s the villain in the game she played in her previous life, before dying at seventeen.

Catarina is oblivious of her real-world Japan past until she stumbles and hits her head and it all rushes back. That’s when it dawns on her that if her path follows that of the game Catarina, she’ll either be killed or exiled in every route. It’s not a matter of playing and winning the game as normal; she has to break the game to avoid certain doom. One thing in her favor: she’s only eight, the proverbial Phantom Menace Anakin: Far from too far gone, plenty of time to devise a plan.

The question, of course, is how to things from going downhill. Having been an otome otaku in her previous life, Catarina has some ideas, and her inner deliberations are given the form of a “Council of Catarinas”, consisting of four different emotional states and an administrator to gather their votes. It’s another novel idea that adds variety to the story, and lets Uchida Maaya play off five different versions of herself—six, including her standard, “unified” inner voice.

The council’s solution to avoid another early death is to develop her sword and magical skills, so that if anyone comes at her, she’ll be ready to defend herself and survive. The magic will also mean she has something to fall back on for money should she end up exiled. Both her parents, her betrothed Gerald Stuart, and her various servants don’t know quite what to make of Catarina’s suddenly odd behavior.

Before long she’s hacking at dummies with a sword and building a garden to commune with nature (and build up her earth magic). But at the end of the day, Gerald still asks for her hand in marriage and she accepts, which means she could still be on the path to doom!

To make matters worse, her parents introduce her to her new adopted brother Keith, who in the game is bullied mercilessly by Catarina, becomes a playboy to sooth his trauma, and eventually he and the heroine Maria fall in love. When Catarina interferes, she’s either exiled or killed off.

She consults her inner head council, who decides that the best way to keep Keith from falling for Maria is to not bully him or make him feel lonely. Catarina does just that, but ends up persuading Keith to use his advanced earth magic, something he promised their parents he wouldn’t.

Catarina is injured by the giant dirt doll, Keith and their parents blame him, and he ends up isolated and alone. Different cause, same effect. Desperate to take the nearest ramp off this doom-filled route, Catarina literally chops Keith’s door down and apologizes for making him break his promise.

Keith comes into the picture pre-messed up thanks to his immense magical talent but lack of control that has led to accidents. But rather than let him stay isolated (or bully him), Catarina shows him she’s not afraid, and promises him they’ll never be apart. She gets in trouble for the door, but things are looking good on at least one not-getting-killed front! Also, it’s a genuinely sweet and moving scene.

I’m well-sold on Hamefura. It places its protagonist in the rigid structure of an otome and challenges her to forge her own path, even if she has to take an ax to the occasional door! She’s fighting against fate with charisma, panache, knowing this world will offer nothing but ruin unless she works her butt off.

Those around her are straight men witnessing her comic transformation from well-bred noble to tree-climbing gardener. Uchida Maaya lays on the industrious charm the whole way through. Her inner council is wonderful. Just as Cat is finding a way not to end up dead or exiled, this is a show managing to innovate and surprise in an over-saturated genre.

Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 07

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The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki? More like the Disappearance of Plot, best demonstrated in the first minute or so of the episode, carried out in silence but for the sounds of Kyon playing Othello with Koizumi, Yuki tapping away on her PSP, and Haruhi writing noisily on the whiteboard. Kudos to the foley artists who provided the sounds that really brought this slice of the lit club’s life…to life.

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As for the plot, it’s not all that important: Haruhi has organized a Hot Springs trip for the club, under the guise of a “training camp”, for which she has forged detailed trip journals legitimizing what will be far more of a freestyle vacation where the only goal is to have fun. Leave it to Haruhi to put so much effort and energy into something that is by design meant to be unproductive.

It also means Opportunity #468 for Yuki-chan to get closer to Kyon and vice-versa, and while I can certainly see some of the situations Asahina imagines Kyon and Yuki getting into, I can safely say the trip will not consist of the two “crossing any lines,” such is the product of Asahina’s overactive imagination.

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Instead, despite not drawing lots to sit right next to each other on the train, the two end up on either side of the aisle, which is almost as good in terms of snack-sharing. It’s a fine example of things maybe not going perfectly according to plan yet still working out just fine. And I’m sure, to Asahina’s relief, Kyon doesn’t try feeding Yuki again.

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The quiet first scene in the club room set the tone for the episode and the club trip in taking its time and enjoying the moment and the journey more than the destination. The character interactions, both as a whole group of seven or in pairs or trios, keep the episode going, as they kill time waiting for their courtesy van by sightseeing and eating…a lot.

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One such welcome pairing is Koizumi with Haruhi, who are always a reliable duo for comedy simply because as far as Koizumi is concerned, Haruhi is never wrong and he’ll never refuse her whims, no matter how unreasonable or odd. The spinoff even makes another callback to its predecessor when Haruhi mentions “power spots” at the temple that can bestow supernatural powers.

But we know by now it’s just teasing and winking, not really seriously suggesting the show will take any supernatural turns…because it won’t. And that’s fine by me, especially if I can still be subjected to silences as long and awkward as Haruhi and Koizumi’s in response to Kyon’s attempt at “vital point” humor.

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Also, it’s good to see that romance and Kyon aren’t the only things on Yuki’s mind—she’s also very enthusiastic about sampling the local food of the region!—She’s also just basking in the glow of her new circle of friends, including Asahina, and this lovely trip they’re on, making fond memories out of soba and smoke.

Lest we forget she was once the only member of the lit club, about to be shut down, but with its infusion of members and semi-members from within and without her school, the club has never been more vibrant. The wish she writes on her matchmaking amulet is directed at the whole group, but we’ll see next week if her attention turns to a more specific subject at the hot spring…and if any of Asahina’s rom-com scenarios come to pass.

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 06

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Last week lagged but gave us some nice character beats. This week was breathless but moved the plot forward…and gave us some more nice character beats. Frankly, I was impressed with how much ground this episode covered, though it features the same uneven and at times downright ugly production values that have plagued this show from the start.

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Hey, looks don’t make an anime, they only help. Mikagura keeps me around because of its fun, optimistic outlook and colorful, likable cast of misfits, led by Eruna, the most misfitty of them all, while occupying that rare, slim space between endearing and annoying. Despite everything she does and says, she manages not to come off as trying too hard. And as we see from the turnout at her surprise pep rally, I’m not alone in liking her.

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As the rookie battles proceed apace, Kuzuryu is kind of in a creative rut, looking for inspiration. All the praise, admiration, and accolades he’s received in the past and is sure to receive in the future don’t matter if he himself isn’t satisfied with his own work. Shigura gives Eruna the story of how he and Kuzuryu once attended Mikagura’s sports-focused sister school, but he was punished for his exceptional talent with ostracization.

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Natch, despite the fact she’s in the middle of a tournament, Eruna comes to Kuzuryu’s aid, requesting that he draw her—nude, if necessary. Her visit is brief, but refreshing to the troubled painter, who betrays a smile after seeing her off to go watch Tonkyun avenge Usamaru, making him promise to watch her when it’s her turn to fight.

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Tonkyun does indeed defeat Azumi without too much of a fuss, discerning that her main (and really only) attack has both a time limit and a re-charging time. Azumi had been winning battles by ending them quickly before that time limit is up and hiding out of reach of her opponent when it is. In the end, Azumi wasn’t anything more complicated than a mustache-twirling villain, but it was still satisfying to see her get her just desserts.

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That’s a little disappointing, but the ep makes up for it by having a bonus battle between Eruna and Tonkyun. Tonky’s observed and analyzed Eruna as he did Azumi, and like Azumi Eruna’s tactics aren’t all that complex, so I really didn’t know who was going to win this one, an uncertainty I enjoyed after Azumi’s certain, somewhat boring defeat.

But Eruna has a trick up her sleeve in the form of a gun and bayonet Tonkyun didn’t take into his calculations, so it’s her win. As with Himi and Meika, Tonkyun is gracious in defeat, not only because Eruna is clearly somebody special, but because they had fun fighting with her.

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Kuzuryu (and Seisa, who doesn’t have much to do this week at all) watches Eruna’s match from a monitor, and it inspires him to paint what he observes. Eruna became his muse, which was probably how she intended to help him after she picked up on his creative block.

Unfortunately, Eruna’s run for the rookie championship ends in the round after Tonkyun, as the broadcast club chick did her homework and beat her easily in another off-camera battle. It’s the end of a run, but hey, she did get to promote her “Surround Ichinomiya Eruna With Cute Girls Club”, and she also got Kuzuyru to paint her picture! About that: it’s abstract art, so it looks more like a satellite photo or Civ III  map than Eruna, which disappoints her somewhat.

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As for the cute girls Eruna wants to surround herself with, we get our first glimpse at one of the school’s cutest, Fujishiro Otone. Eruna first lays eyes on her standing over the soundly beaten tournament favorite, Imizu, twirling her hair.

If there’s one thing Eruna loves more than a cute girl, it’s a tough-as-nails cute girl who will put up a challenge. As she herself was to Kuzuryu this week, girls like Seisa, Himi, Meika, Nyamirin, and soon Otone are her muses. They’re why she gets up in the morning, and strives to become stronger every day.

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P.S. This will probably be my last Mikagura review, at least of this length, due to middling ratings low readership.

Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 06

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This week’s Yuki-chan was a bit of a “sampler” with a lot of different loosely-connected stories taking place within the episode. Because Yuki is trying to be bolder, so she speaks up when the opportunity arises to hear the story of Kyon and Mikuru’s “horrendous encounter” from Tsuruya—after Tsuruya launches Mikuru at Kyon, causing a boob-face collision.

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In a classic example of the listener being at the mercy of the narrator’s own biases and motives, Tsuruya recounts a story of Kyon shamelessly setting up a situation in which he bumps into Mikuru and takes her by the hand. In reality, both events were pure accidents, which, is actually why Kyon and Mikuru are able to converse normally: what happened wasn’t that horrendous to them at all.

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The theme of misunderstanding and withheld facts continues in the second segment, in which Kyon, who won’t admit he’s not doing so great with his studies, asks Asakura if she’ll help tutor him. She gives him a high-and-mighty lecture, whereupon he decides to ask someone else, like Nagato.

At the mention of Yuki, Asakura grabs his hand and the two exchange what I’ll call “smiles of understanding.” But because of those smiles and the fact they’re holding hands, Yuki’s skewed, hyperrealistic manga/video game vision presents a much more intimate scene unfolding before her.

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This misunderstanding is cleared up, but when Asakura and Kyon hit the books, Haruhi and Koizumi burst in, with their prep school education that’s a full year ahead of the two. I love the shot of Kyon’s POV when Haruhi sticks her head into the frame. Kyon and Asakura mistake Haruhi’s factual statements as an attempt to mock their “lesser” school and by extension themselves, so Asakura challenges a “math-off”, only to get in over her head and start crying.

Asakura had warned Kyon not to involve Yuki in anything related to schoolwork, but has little choice, and wins the challenge with Yuki’s superior academic prowess. Hey, she lacks confidence…no one said she was a dummy! In another nice nod to the show in which she’s an alien, Yuki is so bad at explaining how she arrives at answers so quickly it sounds like she’s speaking an indecipherable alien language at seemingly superhuman speed.

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The last segment involves both misunderstandings and Yuki being bold. Kyon decides to eat lunch in the clubroom and finds Yuki there tapping away at her video game (which looks like a dating sim). He decides to tease her by snatching the game and making her jump up high to grab it, resulting in the two accidentally embracing. Asakura enters just in time to witness this embrace, and quickly withdraws with her apologies.

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She bursts in again to find Kyon feeding Yuki, and again apologizes and withdraws. Kyon worries she misunderstood everything…but did she? The hug may have been accidental, but both of them held that hug an awful long time…almost as if they enjoyed it. Also, it makes no sense why splitting Kyon’s lunch would be easier if he fed her. That’s just Yuki seeing if Kyon would actually feed her…and he does! Nice moments for this couple; I just wish they wouldn’t always dismiss them as misunderstandings.

The final scene has Haruhi, Koizumi, Tsuruya and Mikuru at the club’s door in preparation for Haruhi’s “Training Camp”, which she’s sure she told Yuki about, just as she told Yuki she got a faculty pass to come to their school for club. In both cases, Yuki forgot being told these things because she was so engrossed in her video games. But approving Haruhi’s requests has increased Kyon’s exposure to Haruhi, making Yuki’s job to woo him that much harder. So Yuki: When Haruhi’s around, put the game down and concentrate!

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 05

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This week, Eruna dicks around at the school festival taking place during the rookie bracket battle, and basically has fun with many of her various classmates through festival activities. It’s predominantly a slice-of-life episode, and so it had a tendency to lag compared to its more exciting previous episodes…even when it’s trying to make a battle out of shooting a life-size Miracle Man figure.

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The fact it’s a festival episode means it’s full of extras, and they’re all colorless, which doesn’t strike me as a stylistic choice so much as a financial one. Through five weeks Mikagura and Re-Kan! are in an unenviable dead heat for worst-looking show on my docket, but at least Re-Kan! looks finished, and is way better with the treatment of light.

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Still, slow and sloppy as this episode was, there was still plenty to like. Even if she’s not in a club yet (and unfortunately came no closer to forming one or even coming up with an idea for one), she’s still pretty popular both among her fellow After School Six first-years and the seasoned senpais. And while her lustful shtick can grow repetitive, there’s never any doubt why all her fellow students like her, because she’s just a super-likable character with uncommon energy and optimism.

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Her interaction with Yuuta, Minatogawa, and Seisa has the result of lifting their spirits, to the point where Seisa is smiling and enjoying Eruna fawning over her in spite of herself.

would have liked to root for Eruna in her next battle, but in one of the episode’s most annoying choices (and possibly one made due to budget constraints), it’s skipped over…completely. She wins and moves on to the third round, but I felt cheated!

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Our consolation fight is between the odd-eyed Usamaru and Azumi Sagara, the first-year ranked second only to Asuhi (Telescope Kid). Because she’s cute and he’s shallow, Usamaru is hoping to hit it off with Azumi in their match, but in an interesting twist, Azumi not only dominates him with her (cheap to animate!) sound-gravity manipulation, but smugly mocks and derides him for deigning to try when he had no chance.

If nothing else, I left this episode wanting someone—hopefully Eruna—to take this haughty, malicious young lady down a couple of pegs in a future round. You can never tell a book from its cute cover.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 05

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Last week was a compelling turning point in the show, when the streak of everything going Nagato Yuki’s way ends with a bang, with that bang being her homemade chocolates hitting the ground. This week, Nagato Yuki disappears, and it’s up to Ryouko to pick up the pieces.

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To her surprise, Haruhi joins the search. Haruhi claims it was just a misunderstanding; that she was giving Kyon courtesy chocolate just like she gave to Koizumi. It isn’t her fault Yuki overreacted, or takes the ritual so seriously.

Ryouko is angry, first at Haruhi, then at herself for blaming others for what she deems her own failure. This is the angriest and most emotional we’ve seen Ryouko yet, and it’s the culmination of putting “Miss Nagato’s” hopes and dreams on her shoulders, while also possibly forcing ideals on the lilac-haired waif.

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When the two finally locate that waif, sulking on a stair, they learn they misunderstood her running away, as did we. Yuki wasn’t devastated by the sight of Haruhi and Kyon, nor is she giving up; she merely felt like she shouldn’t be there while someone else is giving chocolate to someone, because she wouldn’t want anyone watching while she was doing it. Yuki puts herself in the shoes of others, and treats them the way she’d want to be treated. She really is a good girl.

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But will she have the fortitude to hang in a fight with Haruhi for Kyon’s heart? Haruhi makes it clear she “doesn’t dislike” Kyon (i.e. she likes him) when Yuki asks her point blank (and good for her for doing so!) so it’s no longer a one-horse race. But Yuki is game for now, and Haruhi wishes her rival luck.

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Yuki finally, finally delivers the chocolates to Kyon, with trembling hands and a face so red he really should know how much this means to her. He opens them eats them, praises their taste and Yuki and thanks her. He does everything he should do considering what he was presented with, but it isn’t enough. Someone like Kyon needs a clear-as-crystal confession or it’s going to sail over him.

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With nothing else to do but watch from a secluded spot, Ryouko decries the fact it doesn’t seem to be going so smoothly, while Haruhi, nervously playing with her shoe thinks she understands at least part of how Yuki feels, and how giving something to someone, as a courtesy or not, is still an achievement to be proud of.

Haruhi looks particularly weary when Yuki seems to be going in for the confession, but a terribly-timed tackle by Tsuruya causes Yuki to fall to the ground and Kyon to land on her chest, ruining her chance once more. Haruhi seems more than a little relieved by the Tsuruya ex machina.

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While this week did resort to some standard rom-com stall tactics, I appreciated how it kept things tough for Yuki, and more importantly, brought Ryouko’s formerly flawless facilitating powers down to earth. In one of her better lines, told in her temporary rage, Ryouko tells Haruhi “you’re the kind of person who can act to make what you want happen”—referencing Haruhi’s supernatural powers in the original series—compared to Yuki, who has trouble making anything at all happen.

But after this week, Ryouko and Haruhi seem like something resembling friends, their bond forged in large part because of Yuki: Ryouko’s devotion to her, and Haruhi’s competition with her. And I think Haruhi understands Yuki all too well in one notable regard: for both of them, getting Kyon to properly notice their feelings looks to be a Herculean challenge.

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Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku – 04

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Remember kids, if you don’t smile properly, your mother will pick your perfect little brother who can and run off, leaving you with your dad!

This episode wasn’t just about Eruna developing her powers in preparation for the rookie bracket battle, but about her making friends with the drama club rookies and their leader Akama Yuuto, whom she learns is hiding his true nature from her and everyone else. Oooo…

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First, I wanted to just mention the genius of Eruna having a very pleasant dream about unzipping Seisa’s dress in her bedchamber, but it’s really only the zipper of her sleeping bag in the hallway. Seisa’s maid doesn’t like Eruna, but if Seisa really didn’t want Eruna there, she wouldn’t be there, so I don’t buy for an instant that Eruna doesn’t interest her…nor are we supposed to buy it.

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The “After-School Six” are a colorful bunch that Eruna fits right in with, even if her nickname and persona isn’t an animal (though gorilla is tossed out there). As I said it’s not surprising she’d find and make friends fast at this school; she just has a naturally magnetic personality, even if she can be a tad aggressive with the girls, with three guys in the club there’s a nice balance.

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That personality is something that just comes naturally to Eruna, but it isn’t the same for the seemingly chipper Yuuto, who has to work hard to smile, and feels he must maintain an outer shell of amicability, lest everyone abandon him, as his mother and little brother did. That trauma is brought to the surface because Asuhi reminds him so much of that brother.

This show found a nice dynamic in its character pairings last week with Kyouma cheering up Eruna after her loss to Seisa. This time it’s Seisa, who no doubt shares some of Yuuto’s social awkwardness, who suggests, based on her own experience, to simply forget the things that make him suffer ever happened.

I was even reminded of the iconic Don Draper line: “It will shock you how much it never happened.”

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Without quite knowing what to do, Eruna still waits for an opportunity to be alone with Yuuto. Maybe her plan was really to let him say his piece, since Eruna knew something was amiss, and he knew she knew. He does start, asking why she didn’t simply leave him when she figured out he was “acting”, and Eruna’s response is wonderful: just because she realized that doesn’t mean they’re not friends.

Eruna is fine being friends with whatever Yuuto Yuuto is comfortable presenting to the world, because there’s more to being friends than exchanging smiles and laughs, but helping and supporting each other. When Eruna was down, Yuuto took her into the drama club. Now she’s making clear she’ll stand with him whatever his problems.

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Eruna’s first matchup with Katai Meika in the bracket is also inspired, because it gets back to Eruna’s equal-opportunity policy when it comes to friends. Katai is inspired by Eruna, but also wants to exact revenge for her senpai Himi. And perhaps because this time she’s battling someone more on her level (and both are having a ton of fun dueling), Eruna is able to activate her Toy Gun when she needs it the most. Katai is graceful and gracious in defeat, and will be rooting for Eruna to win it all. So will I!

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 04

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Oh dear…I realize I may have been hasty about choosing Nagato Yuki-san as the Spring’s “feel good” anime. Her inflexible reliance on conventional courtship rituals like Christmas and Valentines left her vulnerable the battle for Kyon’s heart Four weeks in, he has no idea how deeply she feels for him.

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Haruhi arrived on the field of battle late, and even provided moral support for Yuki to advance at a quicker pace, which lessoned the threat she posed. At the same time, her strict non-adherence to societal norms, striking looks, and impish aggressiveness made for a formidable arsenal, with which she’s able to steal a march on Yuki.

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The most heartbreaking part (if you’re a Yuki shipper)? By going home to make chocolate rather than stay at the club to hang with Kyon, Yuki gave Haruhi the only opening she’d need. Mind you, Haruhi doesn’t have anything against Yuki, and she’s not some villainess hell bent on making her life miserable. On the contrary, I doubt she was planning to make the connection she made with Kyon, or vice versa. It was almost as if destiny itself was against Yuki.

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All Haruhi sees is a lonely Kyon waiting for her by the school gate, a potential free coffee, and later, an open ear to her philosophy of “good things will come to those who seek them,” not those who wait. Even when she tests him by asking if he thinks water imps exist, he doesn’t bore her with a scientific explanation for why they don’t. Instead, he ponders whether they do…and who can blame him, with Haruhi fording the February river in her bare feet at sundown; the very picture of impish beauty?

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Yuki means well, but her omission absence, and hesitation are no match for Haruhi. Yet she doesn’t even consider Haruhi to be a threat when she tries and fails to sleep that night, then goes to school with a lump in her throat. Her challenge, as she sees it, is to get that chocolate into Kyon’s hands. As long as she does that, everything will be fine. But putting so much importance into the ritual also means she’ll be that much more devastated if things don’t go as planned.

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Mikiru, Tsuruya and Asahina’s collective “attagirl” encouragement and Asahina’s plan in which she comes to Kyon rather than wait for him, are all designed to make the exchange as painless and idiotproof as possible. But at this point, I’m pretty certain she’s walking into an ambush. There will be no feel-good ending in that room.

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The scene she walks in on couldn’t have been worse if they were in flagrante delicto on the tabletop, because frankly, Yuki’s threshold for romantic defeat is about as low as humanly possible. There’s Kyon, to whom she was about to present the chocolates she put her goddamn heart into, his hand connected via the conduit of a store-bought chocolate bar—”Showa”, a play on Meiji—to Haruhi, the usurper Yuki herself allowed into the club. It’s a regular imperial coup.

The one slight glimmer of hope? The box Yuki drops on the floor doesn’t bust open and scatter the pieces all over the floor, so maybe that’s not quite the state of her heart. But this is going to sting, and her skight step back indicates she intends to retreat.

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