Dokyuu Hentai HxEros – 01 (First Impressions) – Same as She Ever Was

We kick off the Summer 2020 season with something dumb, silly, and either fun or tedious, depending on your mileage: a show about teens fighting libido-sucking aliens with their pent-up sexual energy! The world is relying on youth to save it from a future in which no more children are born because they just can’t be bothered to get it on.

This silly (and very familiar) premise is anchored by two childhood friends Hoshino Kirara and Enjou Retto. While Kirara was once very close to and friendly with Retto, one day a switch flipped and she became someone aloof and so disgusted by boys she won’t even touch anything they touched without gloves. At school she’s given the nickname “Iron Maiden”.

Meanwhile, Retto became a superhero. Assuming an alien (called Kiseishuu or “Censor Bugs”) sapped Kirara of all her emotions five years ago, he swore that he wouldn’t let the same awful fate befall anyone else without him doing something about it. That “something” involves focusing his “erotic power” to defeat the Kiseishuu.

One day, while Retto is trying to apologize to Kirara for accidentally groping her when she slipped on steps (as you do), a Kiseishuu who has grown powerful collecting the libidos of townsfolk confronts the two, and Retto doesn’t quite have the necessary power to defeat it.

Retto takes Kirara’s hand in his and flees, and Kirara, touching a boy for the first time in years and not disliking it, is suddenly overcome by erotic energy. Turns out the Kiseishuu didn’t suck all of it out of her years ago; instead it realized she was an exceptionally ridiculous wellspring of the stuff, and she intentionally suppressed it out of shame.

With the monster bearing down on them both, she finally frees her heart from the iron maiden in which it had been locked away, and in the ensuing sharing of energy with Rettou, the two manage to pulverize the Kiseishuu into the stone age. Naturally, a side-effect of using their powers means all of their clothes are torn off.

In the afterglow of their ecchi victory, Kirara offers to help Retto with his alien-bashing work going forward, even slipping up and using his first name after years of refraining from doing so. Then the other three members of Retto’s HxERO superhero group appear to introduce themselves to Kirara, their newest member. Oh and by the way, they all live together, no doubt to keep their HxEro force in top form.

Both the realization she and Retto are nude and the realization he’s been living with three other girls compel Kirara to deliver a couple blows to Retto, but there’s no going back now! Like them, Kirara was born to do this, and no less than the future of humanity depends on their continued victories over the aliens.

So there you have it! As I said earlier, this was silly, dumb, fun, harmless stuff, and even has a smidgen of heart to it what with the pure childhood-friend affection between Kirara and Retto at its core. Production values get the job done, neither embarrassing or exceptional, while the ecchi elements so far follow a restrained less-is-more pattern.

It’s not great, but it was better than I expected as it went along. At the very least, I’ll be checking out the next episode to see how Kirara fits into the superhero milieu.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 12 (Fin) – Adjusted for Inflation

After the thrilling but nearly completely comedy-free Ishigami Sports Festival denouement, Love is War returns to its bread-and-butter with a relatively understated slice-of-life, life-goes-on finale. We get two stories, the first of which is by far the most emotionally engaging.

The Principal wants to snap photos of the StuCo, but Shinomiya family policy forbids Kaguya’s face from being distributed in any media, so she sits out the shoot. The Principal quickly pulls Miko out of her shell, but gets on Kaguya’s bad side when he pairs Miyuki and Chika as a dating pair.

While Kaguya once looked down on other girls who took pics with their phones, she’s nevertheless come to enjoy documenting her life with the StuCo on her antiquated flip phone (full disclosure: my landlord still has one, and she’s not planning on giving it up anytime soon!).

When the other members insist on including her on a private rooftop shoot, her phone falls off the roof during the exchange with the principal, and it is destroyed, along with all of the data (since it’s not only old, but a weird proprietary phone with no SD storage).

Crestfallen, Kaguya and Ai head to the store to buy the latest smartphone, but she’s thoroughly down that all of her precious memories were lost. The rest of the StuCo picks up on that, so Miyuki finally starts a StuCo LINE group with a shared cloud album, having held off until Kaguya got a smartphone, not wanting to leave her out. Suddenly, her phone, so sad and lonely when new and empty, starts to burst with brilliant 4K HDR photos of the StuCo’s hijinx.

This also serves as a curtain call for some of the most indelible images from this marvelous season. Kaguya’s blank look of quiet despair becomes a gleaming smile, and the five StuCo members pose for another group photo. Needless to say, Kaguya wins, having lost a low-res flip-phone album but gained a much more comprehensive hi-res one.

The majority of final segment feels like a stakes-free epilogue that could also have aired at any point this season. It makes a point to demonstrate that despite all the development these characters have gone through, they can still fall into their old habits, whether it’s Miyuki worried about Kaguya saying “How Cute” to Yuu losing his nerve.

The premise is easy enough, and starts out as a very direct double entendre involving pumping. Chika has a big balloon leftover from the sports fest, and pulls everyone into an increasingly stressful game in which each player must pump at least once, but if the balloon bursts, they lose. Chika actually gets poor obedient kohai Miko to pump the most, but lets her stop before it bursts.

This leaves Miyuki and Kaguya as the last two to pump, and they too survive, but when Chika gets a drop of tangerine juice on the paper-thin rubber, a cataclysmic explosion occurs that destroys the entire academy. As the credits zoom horizontally from right-to-left (a la Chihayafuru), both Kaguya and Miyuki, who survived the blast, are determined to get the other to take their hand.

What sets this interaction apart from so many past ones is that for once their wavelengths are perfectly aligned and they each get what they wanted, which was to hold the other’s hand without saving face or enduring mockery. It’s the perfect way to wrap up this momentous second season, while creating hope for a third one.

Still, I’d be very surprised (and delighted!) if a potential third episode surpassed this second, which goes down as one of the best second seasons of anime ever. MAL has it at #22 all time, and I think that’s a little low. I’ve savored every minute, and now that it’s over for now I shall miss it dearly!

RikeKoi – 04 – A Date Packed with Data

When Himuro and Yukimura show up to their first date in their normal lab outfits disputing the arrival time within hundredths of a second, things seem destined to go pear-shaped from there. Fortunately, Kanade and Kousuke are there to observe, document, and course-correct, so Kanade helps Himuro pick out more suitable garb.

The two also have a data-collecting app with which they can tally various reactions during the date, from a racing heart to uncertain thoughts. Yukimura is almost ready to hit the latter button when Himuro appears in a cute outfit, whereupon he spams the former button.

Things go pretty smoothly from there, until Yukimura hesitates when the itinerary calls for them to hold hands. Himuro decides to wait for the bus while he settles up the bill, but she’s confronted by a pickup artist who was just caught two-timing his girlfriend and ended up with no one.

Himuro skillfully, hilariously rejects this guy like he’s never been rejected before, providing a damn PowerPoint—magically created for just this instance!—illustrating the reasons why she won’t accept his invitation. When he forces the issue, Yukimura steps in, takes her hand from the guy.

He then makes an impassioned speech about how neither he nor Himuro have time to waste on “animals who have abandoned all reason” and storms away. He worries he made an ass of himself, but Himuro is duly impressed.

Yukimura proves a scaredy-cat in all things amusement park ride, but obviously Himuro doesn’t mind whenever he takes her hand for support, and is afraid of a couple rides herself, culminating in the two huddling together on the Ferris Wheel. Yukimura presents the gift of earrings, chosen using a mathematical formula created just for that decision.

Himuro is touched, and when Yukimura apologizes if they didn’t meet the “base conditions of a date”, Himuro presents the data collected thus far indicating her happiness increased exponentially. Furthermore, even if this data isn’t sufficient to prove their hypothesis, it invites the collection of more data, ergo more dates in the future.

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 06 – Stick to Sports

Like a theme park, a school Sports Day provides multiple opportunities to showcase many a funny situation involving members of the Hero Club. In this case, the sports-oriented Yamato takes the lead, as he’s on the committee and thus gets to assign chuuni-like names to all of the events, as well as make the very spirited signage. He also makes sure the other members are in top shape…even for an event they’re not participating in, like tug-of-war. His enthusiasm for sitting on nothing is to be commended.

Yamato proves the fastest runner in all events, and even when he gets hung up on the “found item” part of a race, he ends up taking Mizuki by the hand, likely causing her to wonder if she’s strayed into a shoujo anime. Turns out she’s his favorite…name, as Hijiri is rare. Whether it’s Tomoki winning the bread-snatching thanks to Sora-branded bread, Futaba not having his guitar when he needs it most, or Kazuhiro getting really into the cavalry battle, everyone has something to do, and it’s all entertaining.

That brings us to the three four-eyes who have been shadowing the club all along. Turns out they’re not rivals, but the Student Council (I should have realized that), who are concerned that the Hero Club is an out-of-control public disturbance both on and off campus. Sports Day does nothing to alleviate their concerns, so you can bet the Hero Club’s existence to be threatened in due time…just when, despite herself, Mizuki is coming to enjoy being a part of it…

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 12 (Fin) – The Real Game Begins

The entirety of Takagi 2‘s finale is devoted to the summer festival, as it should be. We start with Nishikata waiting nervously for Takagi, his hands already sweating with anticipation. She arrives positively resplendent in a yukata, nearly bowling him over with her beauty.

As they walk to the festival together, little kids and old people alike see them for what they are: a couple on a date. Nishikata thinks he can win a game in which no adults say they’re on a date, but he has to rely on semantics, and ultimately loses at the candy apple stand.

As the other members of the cast enjoy the festival, Nishikata tries to distract from the fact he’s on a date with Takagi by engaging in one competition after the other, from goldfish scooping to ring toss. He loses at all of them, but Takagi gives him an out: if he does “date stuff” with her, he’ll automatically win.

For once, Nishikata doesn’t want to win, or rather the little timid voice inside him doesn’t want him to fully open himself to the experience. He won’t feed Takagi, but he does give her the gift of a cute hairpin, eschewing the childish toys also available to choose.

On two notable occasions, the large crowds separate Takagi and Nishikata. The first time, he’s able to locate her quickly, but the second almost spells disaster, as they can’t find each other when the fireworks begin. Thankfully, Nishikata’s mate Kimura, with the assist of the episode, directing Nishikata to Takagi’s location atop the shrine steps.

Takagi has to endure the bulk of fireworks all alone, and her face has never been more morose…but when she spots Nishikata running up the steps her face brightens, and meets him halfway down the steps. Sadly, the fireworks end just as they reunite.

Far more importantly to Takagi, Nishikata finally takes her hand into his, unbidden, calmly explaining how it would suck if they got separated, not to mention the steps can be perilous.

DAWWWWWWWWWW

Takagi’s reaction above tells you all you need to know about how much this means to her. Just one episode after he finally asked her out, he mustered the courage to take her hand, and even if it was the practical move, it shows HUGE growth on his part to actually, you know, make it.

They descend the steps hand-in-hand and later we find them playing with sparklers on the beach; unassailably a date thing. Takagi tells him that throughout all the “losses” he’s endured, he’s never really lost, because, well, he has her. Her attention, her affection, her eyes on him.

No matter how you slice it, Nishikata is a winner. And in what I dearly hope will be a third season of this beautiful, uplifting show, perhaps he’ll keep gaining confidence, shaking off his childish hang-ups, and making the right moves. There’s a lot of game left to be played. But if this is the ending to this particular story, I’m glad it ended on a happy note.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 10 – Maiden Abyss

God, where do I even start? I knew I’d be navigating an emotional minefield with a show like this, but in the spirit of one of this episode’s themes, the difference between thinking you know something and actually experiencing it in the moment is as vast as, well, the holes that threaten to swallow up every single character. Certainly far larger than the holes in the sexy underwear Kazusa is investigating on her phone.

Rika just happens to be hanging out with Amagi across the park where Hitoha gets picked up by Milo-sensei. Rika finds Hitoha’s underwear in the trash, freaks out for a minute, then calls a cab to follow them and hopefully save Hitoha and/or Milo from themselves/each other. She’s acting as a good friend would: as best she can with what little, highly concerning information she has.

Meanwhile, after all the hard work he did finding porn not set aboard trains, Niina has likely well and truly ruined them for him as anything pure and innocent, what with her placing his hand on her bum and keeping it there. Izumi pulls away and exits the train, but Niina follows him and demands to know why he’s going so far to refuse her.

Since he asked for advice, Niina offers to let him practice doing it on her. With all of her (not always consciously) honed powers of seduction in overdrive, she asks him straight up if he wants to do it with her, and he rejects her again, but not in the most convincing way.

Before leaving on the next train, Niina passes by and takes note of how hard he was—which is, of course, ludicrous: the hardness of one’s dick and one’s desire to sleep with someone are not the same thing at all. If Niina can’t ever get Izumi to love her like he loves Kazusa, she’ll do everything she can to make him desire her. She’s determined to kill that virginity of hers, and at the moment she has eyes only for him.

Momo plays Street Fighter alone in an empty arcade, and as she watches Chun Li get mercilessly wailed on by Ryu, she comes to a realization that had probably been gestating in her head and heart for some time. She texts Niina, asking to meet up and talk. Just then, Satoshi, a name I rather naively didn’t think I’d have to type again, texts her asking to meet up and talk.

Last week the window (or rather “hole”) seemed to be closing fast for Yamagishi-sensei to put a stop to a situation that, while not strictly illegal in Japan, is still a very bad idea for both parties involved. While yes, he picked up Hitoha, there’s still a possibility he’s just trying to scare her straight by only taking things so far.

Little does he know as he’s driving Hitoha is planning exactly what she’s going to do when they hit a red light: grab Milo’s hand and put it in her. It’s a bold plan to be sure, one I’m not sure she would have actually done, but we’ll never know, because they don’t hit another red light. Instead, Milo pulls in to a love hotel…the cheapest, seediest, least sexy love hotel he could find.

Rika arrives at the love hotel district, but there Hitoha’s trail goes cold, and Amagi really doesn’t want to hang around such a place, as it’s making him think and feel weird things when he’s committed to treating Rika right, a sentiment that makes her swoon when he expresses it.

To our unending relief, we finally learn definitively through his inner monologue that Milo has no intention whatsoever of going through with anything in that dingy lovenest, but makes the mistake of letting Hitoha go off to the bathroom (even more awful than the bedroom! They nailed the details on this shithole) to steel herself up, desperately swiping webpages on what to do in this situation.

She bursts out of the bathroom pounces on Milo, positions herself over his crotch, and starts unbuckling his belt and unzipping. Suddenly, a very stunned Milo has lost control of the situation. Hitoha is just as stunned, but feels if she’s gone this far there’s nowhere to go but forward.

But, once the zipper is down, and there’s no erection, Hitoha gives up and starts to cry, assuming it’s because she’s so “disgusting” to him. Always so condescending and rude in so many of their interactions, Milo drops that act, gently places his hand atop her head and tells her she’s wrong; this isn’t happening not because she’s ugly, but because he’s a coward.

As she cries in his arms, I breathe another sigh of relief. In the end, Yamagishi was the adult here, recognizing he had to to preserve her pride, and the best way to do that was to abandon his own for her sake. That may not satisfy or comfort her in the long run, but it stopped something very bad from happening for the wrong reasons.

Then comes an exchange I wish we didn’t have to witness, because it’s just so hard to watch and so gosh-darn realistic. Satoshi, “The Nice Guy,” didn’t take too kindly to being embarrassed in front of his friends at the cultural festival. He accuses Momo of leading him on, calls her a slut, and demands an apology lest he make it impossible for her to come back to cram school.

Momo isn’t apologizing, and she’s not going back to cram school either, and that’s that. But as she walks away, Satoshi grabs her arm, because he’s not done with her yet. She’s not showing him proper respect, you see? For that, Momo cries out so all the passersby can hear, and naturally Satoshi calls her weird and crazy and scurries off. What an apocalyptic boob. Maybe don’t grab girls who couldn’t be less interested in you and are trying to walk away, brah!

As Niina walks around the same district where we’ve already seen Rika, Amagi, Hitoha and Milo, she thinks about how she always, always gets comments and cat calls whenever she walks down this street…until now. It’s as if Izumi’s rejection of her has marked her as some kind of hideous creature from which all ment will keep their distance.

After years being looked at the wrong way, suddenly she no longer feels the attention…and she’s not feeling so great…like withdrawal from a drug you were forced to take. Then Momo calls her, again asking to meet up. After being touched by a guy, Momo wants Niina to touch her, to “purify” her, because she’s in love with her.

No longer feeling waves of desire from men in her radius, suddenly Niina is confronted by a woman, stating in no uncertain terms she wants to be touched by her. Niina isn’t sure how to respond, so she apologizes and ends the call.

And that, inexorably, brings is to Miss Smartphone Sexy Underwear Shopper. Kazusa is in a wonderful little bubble of bliss, as she has been ever since she and Izumi became a couple. That bubble only grows larger when Izumi gives her a quick “just calling to say I love you” call from the station where he’s still processing what happened with Niina.

It’s clear with this call Izumi is trying both to assuage the measure of guilt he feels and ease the swirling of confusing thoughts in his head by reiterating his feelings to Kazusa, clearly, out loud. He’s a mess, and the call does little to fix that.

After the call, Kazusa beams like we’ve never seen her before, then continues her underwear shopping. In voice-over, she states that at that time she had no idea what vast and widening holes her friends were staring down, nor that she’d soon be staring down her own once her blissful bubble inevitably bursts.

The next morning, Izumi can’t even hold hands on their walk to school for some vague fear of “the neighbors.” That last exchange with Niina really did a number on him, huh? Sure looks like it could be the beginning of the end for these two…before so much as a peck on the cheek.

That just leaves us with Rika and Amagi, the one couple that seems to actually, ya know, be okay! Just as Rika is starting to contemplate getting a little closer to him, the teacher (who is, let it be said, shitty for doing this) announces that her friend Sonoe got pregnant and is dropping out of school. As if the previous twenty minutes of carnage weren’t enough, one last savage dagger before the curtain.

I need a drink!

(Of Misery)

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 09 – What Now?

At least, for a little while, we get to experience the pure initial jubilation of Kazusa and Izumi being a couple, meeting outside their adjoining houses, and walking to and from school together. Everything looks brighter and shinier, food smells and tastes better, and Izumi looks cuter to Kazusa’s eyes. They’re very much on cloud nine, but throughout it all there’s the underlying knowledge that it just can’t last.

Rika, too, admits she has changed, as a “victim of love”, but has also learned that boys are far more sensitive and nuanced than she thought, and tells the rest of the club to value them as humans—something only she didn’t do before.

While all five girls were in one way or another “losers,” now suddenly Kazusa and Rika are “winners,” having broken the plane of boy-girl romance, and their subsequent floating on clouds does not go unnoticed by those left behind. As a self-proclaimed “loser” himself, it’s Milo-sensei’s experience that winning stifles the imagination, which suits Hitoha just fine.

You could also say that winners are so busy winning their guards are down. Kazusa buys Niina’s half-hearted congratulations, but what Niina doesn’t tell her is that she’s still considering whether to steal Izumi from her, and if so, how. Momo isn’t okay with that, and promises Niina that losing two friends (her and Kazusa) for one boy isn’t worth it.

Niina begs to differ: after all, saying she can’t have sex with mere friends—something Momo doesn’t seem that sure about.

So as their destruction is plotted, Kazusa and Izumi go about their wonderful glittery romance…only the glitter gives way to awkwardness when they find themselves alone in Izumi’s house together. What’s the next step for them? They have no idea, not just what they want to do, but what the other person wants to do.

They aren’t communicating properly yet, nor have they set boundaries or lack thereof, so they make assumptions, some of which are right, like Izumi sitting beside her. They hold hands together, but they both get hung up on how sweaty their hands are, and then Izumi’s mom comes in and suddenly they’re six feet apart.

Ultimately, they won’t know what they want to do until they try something, and they won’t know what to try with each other until they discuss it. Right now, their deep, ten-year familiarity is clashing with the newness of their boyfriend-girlfriend status, and resulting in a bit of a short-circuit.

Meanwhile, the fact Kasuza is with Izumi and Rika is with Amagi means the lit club is suddenly taking a break, giving the recent festival as an excuse, but let’s not fool ourselves: Momo and Hitoha and especially Niina are only going to sit and listen to Rika and Kazusa talk about how great it is to be dating boys for so long.

So Momo goes home alone, not knowing quite what to do about the rift between Niina and Kazusa. Niina invites Izumi to “ride the train” with him assuming she’s willing to offer advice as a friend. Hitoha ambushes Milo-sensei in the clubroom with an “expose,” and give him an ultimatum: sleep with her, just once, or everyone, including his beloved Tomita-sensei, will find out about all the things he’s said to a high school girl.

While I doubt Hitoha was simply bluffing here, the fact remains, she wasn’t 100% prepared for him to not only say “okay” to an offer of sex, but set a time and place for him to pick her up. Milo is quickly approaching the point of no return, but his feelings for Tomita, and the threat of her knowing how deviant he’s been, are clearly clouding his judgment.

Later, Hitoha waits at the agreed-upon time and place, and gets in when Milo-sensei stops and tells her to, tossing her underwear into a nearby garbage can. No good can come of this!

In a nice bit of synergy, the same book that Rika and her new gal friend Sonoe (with whom she now interacts far more comfortably) bond over in the library is the book Niina presents to Izumi on the train, describing his relationship with Kazusa to the The Little Prince and the one rose on his planet. When he went to earth, he found that roses were commonplace, but a fox told him that the sum of his time and experiences with that first rose make it unique.

Saegusa tells Niina that she’s the fox, saying the words that will lead to the Prince living the rest of his days with that one special rose, while the fox itself is never mentioned again once they part ways. To not be forgotten like the fox in the story, Niina has to make a bold move.

Whether someone was actually touching her bottom on the train once it gets crowded is immaterial; the point is, Niina wanted a situation in which she could tell Izumi to place his hand on her bottom. Not only that, there’s now a record of their exchange on their phones she could potentially use against Kazusa.

So one of Izumi’s hands is sweatily, awkwardly clutching Kazusa’s as the ticking of the clock grows louder and louder, and the other hand is resting on Niina’s bottom, with Niina’s hand guiding and keeping it there. So, as is asked many times in the heads of the characters this week, What Now?

Trouble…that’s what!

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 08 – Where Legends are Made

This week, with the cultural festival as the backdrop, every O Maiden decides they’re going to make a choice that will hopefully ensure them happiness and stability as they move forward.  Naturally, things don’t start out smoothly for anyone.

For Kazusa, it’s deciding to tell Izumi upfront how she feels. As her performance with Niina looms, Kazusa is mindul, and nervous, of the fact that Izumi is about to witness her essentially rehearse her confession to him with Niina on stage.

Momo decides she’s not going to entertain Sugimoto’s vapid attention any longer, something she’s even more sure of when he shows up with two of his friends. When Rika sees another girl flirting with Amagi, she starts to realize they can’t have relationship if she insists on keeping it secret from the world.

Then there’s Niina. She seems the most lost out of everyone, caught between feelings for Saegusa and Izumi, but neither sure what those feelings are or how to act on them. For his part, Izumi is taken aback when she puts her hand on his face, leading to her scurrying off while he struggles to hold three teapots—which I’m sure is a metaphor for something.

Hongou finds her encounters with Milo-sensei almost completely dominated by the presence of the modern Japanese teacher Tomita-sensei, who has clearly taken a liking to Milo. Tomita doesn’t see Hongou as a threat, she sees her as a child and a student, and there’s clearly the sense Milo appreciates having Tomita around, almost as a shield from Hongou’s potential mischief. But any discomfort he has comes out of his refusal thus far to set clear boundaries, a responsibility that’s his and his alone.

While wallowing in the rest area, Rika is joined by Sonoe, and the two get to talking about the latter’s boyfriend. Sonoe, who it should be said is clearly ready to move on from bullying Rika to a conventional friendship between hotties, tells Rika how her thing with her boyfriend was physical at first, but became romantic when she learned he was a nice guy. Also, that it’s only natural to want to show off and be proud of the person they like. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Izumi in the audience would be awkward enough, but Saegusa also joins the crowd, sitting right beside Izumi. Suddenly, it’s a rehearsal for Niina as well as Kazusa, in which to somehow prove to Saegusa that she’s not boring, that despite having become a woman, she can still be unpredictable like a child.

When nobody expects it, and just when Kazusa is starting to get into rhythm with Izumi less of a source of stress and more of a calming presence, Niina flips the script, walks out into the crowd, and puts her hand on Izumi’s chest, shocking everyone there (and no one more than Kazusa), but eliciting an impressed smirk from Saegusa.

Izumi takes Niina by the wrist to talk in private, whipping the crowd into a frenzy as they hoot and applaud what looks to all the world like two lovers shuffling off to be alone. In the moment, it looks like a heel turn for Niina (if you’re an KaZumi shipper, like me).

Izumi is surprised when Niina tells him even she didn’t really know what she was doing, he surmises that it may have been to make Saegusa jealous, and that if she still wants to do that kind of stuff because she still likes Saegusa, he’s willing to help her. The key is, she should focus on what she wants, not how others will see it. A tall task for someone all but defined by observers. But the one thing Izumi can’t see is the real reason Niina reached out to him: she likes him.

As for Kazusa, she also considered the fact that it may be game over for her and Izumi before she even took her shot, but she’s determined to take that shot anyway. Seeing how Niina looked when she touched Izumi clinched it for her: for someone who clearly likes him that much to still support Kazusa, who only ever thought about herself…that’s the person she’d want to be with Izumi, rather than some rando.

Everything comes to a head at the bonfire that concludes the festival. Due to the buzz caused by the performances—no doubt supercharged by Niina’s improvisation—the whole school is aware of the urban legend about standing in the shadow of the one you love, and people are trying it out.

It’s the first time Hongou’s work has reached an audience so large, and the pride in her accomplishment fuels her confidence in wanting to try it out on Milo-sensei. Unfortunately she doesn’t come close to getting a chance; Milo is well away from the bonfire’s flames, chatting with Tomita-sensei.

Rika fares better. Turns out Amagi wasn’t as close to giving up on them as it seemed last week, but Rika goes for broke and confesses to him in front of everyone, telling him she can now see the difference between romance and sexual desire, but more to the point, she doesn’t care anymore about anything other than Amagi knowing she’s in love with him. He responds by hugging her, telling her he’s never been so happy.

Momo was successful in getting Sugimoto to take a hike, but that leaves her alone at the bonfire when everyone else is busy with their respective love interests. Still, you get the feeling she’d rather be alone than have those annoying dudes buzzing around her, so it’s a win for her.

Niina tells Saegusa that she’s decided to let herself “obsess” over someone for the first time, and see where it goes, after a lifetime of keeping her distance. She’s pretty much asserting she has to look out for herself, even if it hurts Kazusa and ends up fruitless, as Izumi just doesn’t see her that way, and has—has always had—someone closer to him.

That brings us to Izumi, who beats Kazusa to the punch and and confesses to her first, moving her to tears of joy and relief. He references that day years ago when he first saw her as a girl, and after all those years of her protecting him, he decided he wanted to protect her too. Big sister, little sister, good friend…she’s been all of those things to him, but now he knows all of those characterizations are reflections of the love he’s always had for her.

The two walk to the riverfront hand-in-hand to admire the cityscape, at peace and happy as clams. So many weights have been lifted on this night, but the smooth sailing will only last so long with four episodes left. Storms lie ahead, and the strength of all of the night’s confessions and rejections place will be vigorously tested. I’m fist-pumpingly happy for Kazusa and Rika, but love and pain do go hand in hand!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 07 – Wandering Stars

Nishikata has big plans for teasing Takagi on the camping trip, no doubt hoping a change of scenery will restore some of his mojo. During the class photo, he plans to make a half-peace sign that will look like a creepy hand behind her back. Alas, no matter where the two are, Takagi is always a step ahead, flashing a face funny enough that not only does Nishikata miss his chance, but he’s in the midst of laugher camera shutter clicks.

The show pulls out of the photo, presumably into the future, to a grown-up, smiling Takagi. Something tells me that isn’t the smile of someone who didn’t end up getting her man when all was said and done and the teasing and games turned to straight-up love.

Takagi and Nishikata end up paired up again when Mano needs a rest and they both make sure Nakai stays with her. It starts to rain suddenly (they’re in the mountains, where weather actually is that fickle) and end up alone in a small shelter together, watching that rain (not, as Nishikata points out, for the first time).

He decides to challenge Takagi to another game, involving blind tasting of the snacks they’ve brought. Clearly he didn’t think this through, because Takagi all-too-easily exploits his opening to make him feed her, his hand to her mouth. Even when the rain stops, Takagi wants one more game…so she can feed him.

After that, it’s time for the old Japanese school camping trip standby of homemade curry. Yukari cuts her finger, so Mina and Sanae have to do all the cooking among them. Nishikata, meanwhile, is too preoccupied with how he can stem what is so far a complete rout of him by Takagi in the teasing department.

When she approaches him, correctly observing he’s thinking of a way to get back at her, she presents him with game that all too easy to win: all he has to do is hold her hand. Nishikata bristles at such a potentially embarrassing gesture, but then remembers that hand-holding between sexes is all too normal during the folk dance ’round the bonfire that night.

To make things a little more difficult for Nishikata, Takagi is arranged in such a way that it takes a good long time for them to come around to each other. As Nishikata sees Takagi holding hands with other boys and smiling, I couldn’t help but notice a tinge of jealousy in his face, along with the thought that Takagi actually wants to hold hands with him.

Both are shocked when the music stops just when they’re about to pair up; their hands remaining an inch apart as the other kids disperse. “That’s too bad, Nishikata” she says to him before joining the other girls for a bath. “Just a bit more and we would have fallen in love,” referring to the school legend.

The thing is, Takagi and Nishikata don’t need any help from bonfires or folk dances to enjoy spending time together. Fate seems to already paired them up; all Nishikata needs to do is grow up a bit more. After lights out, when Nishikata can’t sleep, he encounters her making a wishing on the stars. When the patrolling teacher approaches, they have to hide in a very small cave, huddled closely together.

When the teacher finally leaves, they stay put for a little while, ostensibly in case he comes back, but also because it’s just frikkin’ nice. As they gaze up at the stars together, Nishikata asks what she was wishing for earlier. She tells him she wished for exactly what she ended up getting: to go stargazing with him.

While he may consider that more teasing, one look at Takagi’s face makes it clear she was being completely honest. My wish is that Nishikata will realize that one day.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 06 – Getting a Grip

When will Nishikata learn that no amount of training will prepare him for the mind games Takagi plays on him? Not this week, as he revives their gym challenge (which he also lost last year). The thing is, even though he sucks at toe touches and fails the grip test due to imagining he’s holding her hand, Takagi still technically loses. She just gets him to admit defeat before she tells him he has a higher score. Better luck next year, I guess!

With Nishikata’s after-school committee work done and the class camping trip looming, Takagi picks up on his desire to leave school together (even though he doesn’t want it to look like he wants to, she reads his mind) and they practice one-on-one dodgeball. Again, Nishikata’s proficiency with dodging does him no good, as Takagi first tricks him by making him turn his back, then gets into the weeds about whether he’ll dodge or catch, causing him to ask, again and again, “We’re talking about dodgeball, right?”

When the three girls stop at a sweets shop after work for some snacks, a black-and-white cat inexplicably swipes a piece of candy Mina just gave to Yukari after her stomach growled, and the girls give enthusiastic chase through various obstacles. The athletic Sanae is the only one able to keep up, but when she finds the cat giving the snack to three adorable kittens, she gives up and tells the others she lost track of her. Clearly, the mama cat needed it more than Yukari!

Takagi and Nishikata end up at the same sweets shop, where Takagi proceeds to buy the opposite of everything Nishikata picks out, so that they can exchange with each other later. After the dodgeball Nishikata is also hungry, so he buys a cup of noodles to eat in-store, and Takagi does the same. This marks the first time just the two of them are out to eat, which Takagi observes makes it a date—inducing a hot ramen spit take from Nishikata.

He’s confident he can deny to anyone who sees them that they are on a date (i.e. intentionally spending time and sharing a meal together one-on-one), but when his two nerdy friends enter the shop, they slink in, make their purchases, and slink out without saying a word, as if no denial from Nishikata would even matter. They know what they saw!

With that, Takagi expresses her excitement about the coming camping trip, implying it will be yet another new setting for new forms of teasing (i.e. flirting). Kudos to Takagi for finding new ways to expand their interactions despite his outward reluctance, as well as to Nishikata for inwardly admitting it probably was a date they were having then and there.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 05 – Kyun Kyuun!

The Strong, Silent Type—That’s what Nishikata aims to be one day, not giving Takagi an opening to tease him, like the Dandy of the Old West, another show he watches. Of course, Nishikata always has an opening: his ticklish sides.

Also, Takagi is a fan of Dandy too, so the two play a game involving questions: the first person who can’t answer gets a bang—in this case, more tickling. Takagi asks loaded questions about her crush, who naturally can’t answer them.

In a short aside, Mina (who also watches Dandy) is thought by Yukari and Sanae to be kind due to her thick eyebrows, but since she initially thinks they’re mocking her, she says something very unkind about Yukari’s bangs that can’t really be taken back!

When Yukari has to flag Nishikata down for after-school committee activities, she feels bad about separating him and Takagi. When she sees him counting on his hand, she imagines he’s lamenting how many days he hasn’t been able to walk home with Takagi; in reality, he’s counting how many times she’s teased him, which is lower than usual due to their being apart.

Still, they don’t stay apart long, as when Nishikata’s birthday arrives and he’s sent out to pick up his birthday cake from the bakery, who does he run into but Takagi, once again resplendent in street clothes. Nishikata thinks going to get your own cake is pathetic, so tries to lie about where he’s going, but fails, because Takagi is headed to the same place.

Nishikata lets Takagi go ahead of him at the counter, hoping, for a moment, she’ll pick up her order and leave. Then he suddenly realizes it’s highly unlikely she’d actually do that! Instead, she takes his hand and places her order in it; it’s for him, as a gift for correctly guessing she was headed for the cake shop (But also because she knew it was his birthday, since she’d ordered ahead of time).

Once home, Nishikata rushes to his room to see what Takagi got him: some personalized cat-themed cookies and a talking 100% Unrequited Love keychain that goes “Kyun Kyuun”. Two sweet, thoughtful gifts from someone who knows him almost better than he knows himself. Daaaawwww.

The final segment involves sneezing, or rather, how people in Japan sneeze whenever someone’s talking about them. In a clever sequence, one sneeze is followed by the mention of someone else, who is then the next to sneeze, eventually looping back to Takagi, whom Nishikata almost notes has a cute sneeze, but holds his tongue.

But even if he can’t call Takagi cute to her face (and that’s how he’d truly beat her, by the way) he at least has the wherewithal to properly thank her for her gift. As Takagi tells him he’s welcome, she walks ahead of him. He can’t see it, but she’s blushing from his thanks. Kyun Kyuun indeed!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 04 – Brains Beat BOSS-Drinking Brawn

Nishikata is the best arm wrestler in his class, due to the fact he does three push-ups for every time Takagi teases him during the day. But all that extra brawn is for naught as long as he doesn’t exercise that most important of “muscles”—his head.

Case in point: Takagi genially challenges him to arm wrestle, and in the first round starts she pretends to be far weaker than him, and simply waits for him to let his guard down. In round two, Nishikata is done playing around, but is then flustered when she asks if he wants to hold hands walking home.

In both cases, Nishikata’s superior strength is neutralized by Takagi’s mind games. And yet all Nishikata will do as a result of his losses is do more push-ups. After all, he simply can’t predict every trick Takagi has up her sleeve. He could plan 100 moves in advance and she’d be ready with Move 101.

After Hina tries to make a big display of how mature and grown-up she is by staring out the window, sighing, and talking about the impermanence of things (mostly foods) which only leads to Yukari and Sanae laughing at her, Nishikata decides to show Takagi how mature he is by taking the advice of one of his guy mates (never a good idea) and drinking the bitterest coffee he can buy.

That coffee, clearly a non-copyright-infringing stand-in for Suntory BOSS, proves way too bitter for him to not make all the faces one expects of someone who hates coffee, and in addition to being a Teasing Master Takagi is also mastered reading Nishikata’s face.

She does the practical (and truly mature) thing and buys a delicious melon soda, and offers Nishikata a sip, pointing out it would be an indirect kiss. To accept her offer would actually show maturity on his part, since an indirect kiss shouldn’t be a big deal to a grown-up.

Not to mention Takagi isn’t about to stop teasing him even if he convincingly enjoyed a can of BOSS; she’d simply devise new ways to tease him. It’s what she does.

Finally, Takagi meets Nishikata for their walk to school, but for once without her bike. He recalls her saying something about the brakes on their last walk, and assumes that’s the reason why, but Takagi warns him that if he guesses wrong it’s an “instant loss,” so he ponders other reasons as they take detours not possible with a bike.

Ultimately, Nishikata sticks with his brake answer, thinking Takagi was throwing a bunch of other potential reasons (stairs, hopscotch, cats) as a distraction. But of course, he’s wrong. Takagi actually had two genuine reasons that he did not consider. One, she didn’t bring her bike because she wanted to watch him struggle to determine the reason. Two, she actually did, and does, want to hold hands with Nishikata, hence no bike.

Of course, whether it’s dropping her -san or sipping from her can or holding her hand, Nishikata remains nervously reticent, despite now being a second-year. Because he makes her laugh so much, this doesn’t seem to bother Takagi so much, but as Hina says, nothing lasts forever, so one would hope that applies to Takagi’s patience.

At some point, Nishikata is going to have to reckon with the fact a girl likes him, and he likes her back, and pursuing that is more important than winning and losing silly games.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 01 – Beyond Teaserdome

And now, for the show I’ve been looking forward to most this Summer: the continuation of one of the more low-key charming shows about young unspoken love you’ll ever come across. There’s nothing added to the formula, but the two seem to be at about the same place they were last season, a teeny bit little closer than they used to be.

Of course, you’ll never hear Nishikata admit it. He runs all over the school asking to borrow an English textbook, just so that he doesn’t have to suffer the embarrassment of sliding his desk next to Takagi’s so she can share her book with him. That’s what happens, of course, since theirs is the only class who has English that day.

Like an adolescent Wile E. Coyote, Takagi whips up another half-baked scheme involving vertical messages hidden in notes, and while Takagi the Road Runner refuses to take the bait and turns it right back on him, culminating in a note that is full of genuine affection with no hidden message at all…something that only makes Nishikata blush more.

In the next segment (this show does a nice job breaking up its episodes into multiple skits) Takagi offers to be Nishikata’s subject to test a pendulum he made to induce hypnosis, and for a good long time, Takagi makes him believe he was successful, by wearing a glazed-over look and obeying his every command.

When he orders her to pick her nose and she’s about to do it, he blurts out that he changed his mind—believing he was an a real position of power, he proved too kindhearted to let her go through with it. But in the same moment he retreats, Takagi advances, ruthlessly tickling Takagi in his side, the vitality in her eyes fully restored.

After that, a brief entr’acte involving Mina, Sanae, and Yukari, in which Mina watched the same TV show about hypnotism and ended up hypnotised herself. The three discuss their sleep preferences, and Mina reveals that while she may seem lazy at school, she works her ass off at home, watering the garden and making breakfast and lunch for the whole family before school. No wonder her hair’s askew!

Back to Nishikata and Takagi walking home, when the former suggests they hit up the riverbed. Takagi knows full well he intends to instigate a stone-skipping contest, and offers to forfeit immediately. All he has to do is hold her hand. He refuses emphatically, and the contest proceeds.

Takagi make Nishikata choke by claiming she can skip a stone 30 times, so that her modest three-skip stone beats out his zero skips. But when he’s a bit too excited about finding another perfect stone, they bump bums and she starts falling towards the water. In that moment, Nishikata grabs her hand and pulls her away from the river with such force that he ends up throwing himself in the drink.

If Nishikata ever wanted to truly catch Takagi off guard, this was the time. Alas, he refuses to admit they actually held hands, giving her the automatic win. Still, the fact he saved her at the cost of his own personal dryness is still more proof she won’t be losing interest in him anytime soon.

The mundane setting is bright and cheerful. Takahashi Rie and Kaji Yuki demonstrate their ample seiyu chops with their sensitive and nuanced performances. The characters are lovingly drawn, animated, and lit. Takagi-san is back. We are all better for it.