A Couple of Cuckoos – 21 – Phoenix Rising

This energetic episode of Couple of Cuckoos got a lot of previously stationary balls rolling just in time for the season’s final push and really brought the ensemble humming together for the first time. And it all comes down to scenes of directness and honesty. The first term ends with Nagi back in the #1 spot, which considering his fall to 13th (and all his life’s distractions since) is a truly impressive feat.

He not wrongly believes this feat to trigger a reassessment in Segawa Hiro’s “placing him on hold”, and sure enough, he gets that love note in his locker with her atrocious handwriting inviting him to the roof. After she uses the same “phoenix” analogy in his own head, he once again asks if she’ll go out with him. And while she once again doesn’t say no, her “yes” is filtered through a confession: she wishes she was engaged to him.

The runner’s high from exams turns into an even more potent lover’s high for Nagi, as he takes great pains to let Erika and Sachi know that Hiro confessed. While Sachi doesn’t see it as a real confession, Erika is at least well-versed enough in the language of love to know that Hiro would never just say that outright. She proposes the four of them go to her (private!) beach house to further investigate the intent of her words.

Hiro’s all in, but Sachi is out on supply shopping, so it’s Erika and Nagi this time. We missed this dynamic when Shion was the fifth wheel, but it’s another reminder of the infectious chemistry these two have, even if neither of them are comfortable seeing it as romantic affection. They’re just good buds who’ve greatly enjoyed spending time together…even on a cramped bus.

However, there is one big elephant in the room, and it’s that Hiro still doesn’t know they live together. Nagi doesn’t like the idea of keeping secrets from Hiro, but Erika thinks it could destroy their relationship with her…and also selfishly wants to have some secrets with Nagi, adding further texture to their complicated but compelling bond.

So both are saved a lot of trouble when they arrive home dressed in matching Hawaiian vacation wear to find Hiro tutoring Sachi. Also, Sachi told Hiro that Erika and Nagi (and Sachi) are living together. Hiro plays this cool in the moment, but you can tell there’s drama brewing beneath that easy smile.

Sure enough, when the four go on the trip (this time with no fifth wheel needed) there’s plenty of stuff to sift through. We naturally get to see the three girls in their swimsuits. You’d think Erika would buy Sachi a new one for the trip, but she has her school swimsuit, further increasing her kid sisterliness factor.

Erika continues to play her role as girl-pal to a T when she offers to talk to Hiro, who is clearly avoiding Nagi, on his behalf. Nagi thanks her, but knows this is something he has to talk with her about face-to-face.

The luxurious deck of Erika’s umpteenth vacation house serves as a dramatic substitute for their usual venue of real talk, the school roof. Hiro is intentionally coy, and then lays out all the ways Nagi fucked up. It’s not just that he kept a secret when they agreed not to. It’s all the opportunities he had both to tell her and to stop living there that he didn’t take.

It’s not that Nagi living with Erika is unacceptable to Hiro; it’s that he wasn’t honest about why. Hiro realizes this when the excuses about complicated family matters falls flat even as he says them. The truth is, he enjoys living there, which is why he’s stayed. And that’s fine! He just needed to tell Hiro rather than her having to infer it and Sachi confirming.

Of course, as we know, Hiro is immensely kind and magnanimous, so she forgives Nagi with a slap on the wrist…or rather, a pluck of his hair, playfully warning him she’ll use it put a curse on him should he do it again.

So finally, with what, two episodes left, everything (except the truth about Sosuke) is on the table, even Nagi being told by Hiro that Sachi has a crush on him. Again, this might not be something Sachi said to her, as she’s still figuring out her feelings, but like Nagi and Erika’s secret, it’s something Hiro inferred from Sachi’s words and actions. Let us not forget, Hiro is a smart one…but for Nagi, she’d be #1 in their grade!

Because Sachi isn’t ready for Nagi to say things like that about her, she devolves into kid-sister mode, putting him in an elaborate wrestling move. But I still feel that with all the real talk, revealing of secrets, and forgiveness in this episode, I feel like all the characters are finally ready for the cards of fate to start falling as they may.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 09 – All Aboard the Friend-Ship

Don’t get me wrong: I like Izumi, and feel he’s both delighted and transcended his male damsel-in-distress archetype. That said, it’s not his name on he show, so to have a whole episode where he’s basically in bed sick is a great opportunity to explore Shikimori’s other relationships, starting with Inuzuka.

Inuzuka has known Izumi far longer than Shikimori, and so when you factor Shikimori’s need to compete in everything, that disadvanage is a sore spot. Thankfully, by spending some time with her (and due to the sleuthing of Hachimitsu) he learns she doesn’t just see him as some kind of rival, but that she often projects her big brother on him.

It’s gratifying that while Shikimori is initially competitive and pouty, she ultimately chooses not to usurp Izumi’s wishes for Inuzuka, not her, to take his notes and visit him while he’s sick. She can rise above those more possessive aspects of her personality.

After the Inuzuka segment, the episode becomes a tribute to girlfriends, i.e. girls who are friends. Nekozaki shines as she and Shikimori spot Kamiya at the bookstore. She invites Kamiya to join them in hanging out and Kamiya accepts, which makes Nekozaki’s day as she’s always wanted to get closer.

Little does she know how close Shikimori and Kamiya already are thanks to their shared adoration for Izumi and their intense rooftop encounter, and after returning from the bathroom she assumes the two became instant best buds in her brief absence.

The truth is that they’d already become closer on that rooftop, but hadn’t quite had the opportunity to build upon that moment to expand a relationship for which there was no reason not to become more of a friendship. Nekozaki is a useful facilitator for that purpose here.

In a wonderful segment, Shikimori and Kamiya team up against two aggressive but also highly virtuous gyarus on the basketball court, mopping the floor with the former high school champs with ease thanks to some baller teamwork. The power of friendship is on full display, but since it’s two-on-two Nekozaki is the odd woman out, and plays referee.

The girls’ bond is revealed to Nekozaki first by watching the two interact at the mall and now play together on the court. Nekozaki heard the chatter from other classmates establishing Kamiya as either a stuck-up/aloof cool beauty or a tragic loner, but the Kamiya she watched today seemed nothing like that externally-manufactured concept.

Later, when Nekozaki is walking with Kamiya, she wonders what or who brought about this change, because from Nekozaki’s perspective, it looked like Kamiya was carrying some pain. Kamiya isn’t quite ready to say who, but she will say that that person told her to treasure what she feels.

Kamiya apologizes for never saying yes to Nekozaki’s many offers to hang out in the past. But being the sweetheart she is, Nekozaki apologies right back for coming off as a little pushy about it. Nekozaki did it not just because she sensed Kamiya’s hurt, but also because she recognized Kamiya was a person it would be an honor being friends with.

Nekozaki is perfectly fine letting Kamiya take her time discovering more of her feelings, and when she’s ready, Nekozaki will be there to hear her or be a shoulder to cry on. Nekozaki wants nothing more than for Kamiya to smile from the bottom of her heart. That desire is at the heart of friendship … where everyone is welcome aboard and no one goes overboard.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 08 – Stroke of Noon

Izumi learns a lot of new things about his library buddy Kamiya during their quiet library rest area shifts…except what she’s thinking the whole time. That she’s an idiot for “waiting around” and not taking the initiative when he was still single; that she’s a bad person for having such feelings for someone whose heart belongs to another.

When Nekozaki asks if they can trade numbers, Kamiya does so with her usual quiet smile, but holds on just a little bit before letting it go: a wonderfully animated moment. Shikimori notices that hesitation, and also a measure of the pain hiding behind Kaimya’s smile. Kamiya’s face does a lot of heavy lifting this week.

Kamiya puts her hair up returns to her fawning fans, but soon the din of praise and speculation about her grows deafening, and she just can’t be there anymore. The cool beauty is overheating in that gaggle, and especially doesn’t want to hear people praise her when she feels like the biggest, worst loser ever.

Kamiya is soon joined on the roof, under a cloudy sky that matches her mood, by Shikimori, who offers back the number along with an apology. Now that she knows how Kamiya feels, trading with her feels cruel, and she doesn’t want to be cruel to anyone who likes Izumi, because no one who likes who she likes could ever be bad.

We’ve seen jealous Shikimori before, but Empathetic Shikimori is a far superior mode. While admitting she might seem “high and mighty”, she owns that 100% and assures Kamiya that nothing of what she’s feeling is wrong, and she shouldn’t feel compelled to bottle it up or throw it away for her sake.

Suddenly faced with the second person not to put her on a pedestal but simply let her be her (after Izumi, a large part of his appeal for her), Kamiya is overcome and lets those feelings flow out, sobbing uncontrollably. Shikimori does what you’d expect her to: draw the taller Kamiya into a warm, supportive hug.

Kamiya walks away from the experience glad that Izumi is with someone like Shikimori, and ready to move forward not in denial but in full acknowledgement of her feelings for him. But later that night, after the after-party when Izumi gives Shikimori a birthday/anniversary present, Shikimori feels weary.

She’s not weary specifically of Kamiya, but she’s a symptom of a larger problem on the horizon that she fears: that so many people will see what she’s seen in him all along, he’ll drift further and further away from her. She doesn’t want him to change, but she’s worrying too much.

Izumi credits much of his change for the better to Shikimori, and he’s not done changing and getting stronger she she can smile and relax and not worry about a grand piano falling out of the sky and onto her boyfriend. Hearing that he wants the exact same she does makes her start bawling like a baby.

One might think this means Izumi is singularly capable of tearing down Shikimori’s badass poise, but they’d be wrong. Shikimori is cool precisely because she’s not afraid to cry big sloppy tears over her love of Izumi. It’s a new high point for this pair of splendidly sweet, honest lovebirds.

Sonny Boy – 11 – Excelsior

I would have been content with episode 8 being Peak Sonny Boy, but I knew it probably had at least one more ten or Lister in it. So we come to the Achingly sad, joyful, empty, bursting, whimsical, utilitarian, lonely, warm, humdrum and epic episode yet. It begins with two humans, a dog, and three cats celebrating the life of Nozomi—the episode confirming what I’d feared without using words (though the explicit words come later).

After preparing the funeral venue with the kind of mirth Nozomi would have totally gotten down with, the sun eventually goes down, no one comes to mourn her, and Mizuho and Nagara set her shrine into the sea to be carried away to parts unknown. Mizuho starts to cry, but Nagara is both too awkward to comfort her and a steady emotional rock sitting beside her.

When live takes away a Nozomi in This World, it gives you a Rajdhani, and while I missed Nozomi more than I thought I could miss a fictional character, it’s to Sonny Boys credit that it softens the blow by bringing back the smartest and one of the kindest and most empathetic characters in the show. He’s been on his own for over 2,000 years, but he’s still Rajdhani. You could say he’s mellowed out a bit.

Mizuho, Nagara, Rajdhani embark upon the most ambitious project to date: Project Robinson, an Apollo-like program with just the three of them, Yamabiko and Nyamazon as the people involved (meanwhile Apollo involved 400,000 people, or more than the population of Iceland). Robinson is Mizuho and Nagara’s ticket out of This World and back to their own, where they figure about two years have passed, but they’re ready to go home anyway…because it’s home.

As work progresses on the Vehicle Assembly Building (an exact copy of the one in Florida), Rajdhani regales both Mizuho and Nagara with some of his more memorable travels to far-flung worlds. In one, a guy refused to accept reality and became trapped in a world of his own embellishment, starting with the depiction of the one he loved.

In another, the entire population of students ate neither plants nor animals but simply fasted—something you can do when you can’t starve—until challenged by a meat-eating devil. And then there was an inventor who invented “death”—or at least as close to death in the world they came from as you can get in This World—which is pretty similar.

The inventor who invented “death” had become “Buddha-like” in Rajdhani’s words, a “well-adjusted person” who was content with what was in front of him. And yet, that was the literal end of his life, for even the most complacent or enlightened humans still age and die.

This World is inhumanly, inhumanely static, which means there comes a point when existence…well, isn’t necessarily a curse, but simply doesn’t matter. Rajdhani admits that he feels like he’s being drained away by time. He calls life “an endless exercise in vain effort”, yet it’s that very meaninglessness that makes every moment in life so precious and brilliant, because each one of those moments is the only one that was, is, or will ever be.

That brings us to a flashback on the beach with Nagara and Nozomi, before her ill-fated trip to War. He’s showing her an earlier version of Project Robinson, which he’d been working on in Rajdhani’s absence. Nozomi ponders the ramifications of suddenly returning home after two years, how they may be different people than who they were, and how she may even be dead.

But one thing Nozomi the Compass knows for sure: the first thing she’ll do when she’s back in their “original” world (that doesn’t involve eating something) will be to seek Nagara out and re-befriend him without delay. It’s after remembering this moment with Nozomi, who promised they’d be friends in any world, that Nagara finally breaks down. And even after over 2,000 years of absorbing knowledge and wisdom, Rajdhani still can’t do anything but sit next to him…and that’s okay.

The completed heart of Project Robinson is revealed as the Saturn V rocket that propelled human beings to the moon, something that remains such a staggeringly awesome achievement, especially considering how long ago it happened. The Saturn V is perhaps the most awesome thing humanity has ever built, and it worked…more than once, is something of a miracle.

And while there were certainly political considerations to be made—the Soviets beat the U.S. to space, so apparently the U.S. had to beat them to the moon—so much labor was put into a mission of pure peaceful exploration and discovery. That the fruit of all that labor brought science closer to the cusp of the unknowable and infinite that our simple carbon-based bi-pedal species had ever come before or since.

It was a simply glorious achievement that makes me misty eyed just thinking about it…so it’s especially fun to see three high schoolers pull if off with a dog and three cats. The Robinson rocket is a 363-foot-tall metaphor for spreading one’s tender, untested new wings and leaving the nest, which is what Mizuho does by leaving her three cats behind. They can’t come back with her to where she belongs, but that’s okay. They did their job. She’ll be okay on her own.

Well, not entirely on her own; she has Nagara. And for an episode in which he mourned the loss of his first friend Nozomi, he smiled and laughed more in this episode than any previous ones. He wouldn’t be the person he is without Nozomi, which is why on the spaceflight up into the infinite, near the boundary between This World and That, he still has a compass watch with arrows that never move, representing Nozomi’s inspiring, indomitable will.

We don’t know what awaits Nagara and Mizuho on the other side any more than they do, but that’s entirely okay. I haven’t had the slightest idea what Sonny Boy will throw our way from one week to the next; I highly doubt it will try for predictable, obvious, or boring in its (assumed) finale next week.

As Rajdhani said, Nothing matters in This World…but once in a while, cool things do happen. Sonny Boy shows us that experiencing those cool things alongside people you love can make what shouldn’t matter…matter.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Sonny Boy – 10 – The Girl Who Knew Too Much

This week’s Sonny Boy experience comes from the POV of Tsubasa, AKA Sarah Plain and Tall With Broken Arm. We learn her power is “Monologue”—the ability to hear everyone’s inner voices. In order to not be ostracized, she’s kept the power a secret from everyone. She listens, but she doesn’t act in a way that would arouse suspicion.

Tsubasa likes Asakaze. She knows he’s kind of an ill-natured prick, but it doesn’t matter; she still likes him. But as she can read minds, she knows it’s unrequited; she also knows Asakaze likes Nozomi. He doesn’t like how close Nozomi is with Nagara. All the while, he’s unconsciously closer to Tsubasa than anyone; only she can hear his inner voice.

Tsubasa can’t help but like Asakaze, but while you’d think she’d try to use her power to try to make him feel the same way, all she does is quietly admire him from a distance. She hears all his thoughts about Nozomi, all the while dreaming of the day all his other romantic options will be exhausted and he’ll “land at her feet.” But between Nozomi (who doesn’t return his feelings) and Aki-sense (who is only wielding Asakaze like a tool), there’s too much competition.

Tsubasa and Nozomi end up accompanying Asakaze and Aki-sensei on the “grand task” he wishes to complete: defeating “War” before he can cause undue destruction. Tsubasa can’t fault Asakaze for liking Nozomi, because she knows that Inner Nozomi is just as wholesome and noble and honest as Outer Nozomi. Everyone practices some degree of deceit…except Nozomi. On the treacherous hike in “War’s” strange ceramic world, it’s Nozomi who comes to Tsubasa’s aid when she twists her ankle.

When they encounter “War” while falling down an endless gorge with a blood red bottom they never reach, he’s a student constantly falling and buffeted by the wind like the Maxell guy. Tsubasa can’t hear his thoughts; the guy is totally empty. Kinda like warD’YOU GET IT?!?!! Ahem…anyway, Aki-sensei (and apparently God AKA Dr. Strangelove) wants Asakaze to eliminate “War” from this world by creating “Death”, leading Nozomi to take him to task for trying to play God.

This causes Aki-sensei to retreat with Asakaze somewhere where she can bury him in her bust and keep him under her thumb. But as Tsubasa always knew since the drifting began, the only person who could truly change Asakaze was Nozomi. Nozomi won’t pretend to pander to him. Asakaze can probably sense that there’s never any deceit with her.

So when Nozomi says “Even if I’m dead, I can accept my own fate,” she means it. Maybe that’s why, after he turns “War” into a gun and the red into white, when the cliff crumbles and she falls, Asakaze doesn’t use his power to save her. Or maybe he can’t.

Meanwhile, Nagara picks up the mantle of island researcher from the long-departed Rajdhani, and continues to experiment with Mizuho’s powers. When he orders a chicken with Nyamazon and then kills it, it stays dead. When Mizuho orders one and he kills it…it comes back. Between having three wise talking cats protecting her and the potential power over life and death, I’m starting to wonder if Mizuho is the true God around these surreal parts.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kanojo mo Kanojo – 01 (First Impressions) – Good Faith Violation

Saki and Nagisa seem like nice people and are very cute, coming straight form the Quintessential Quintuplets school character design—not surprising as Tezuka Productions and director Kuwahara Satoshi helmed QQ’s first season. There’s another QQ connecting thread in a lad trying to juggle multiple relationships with very different personalities while also trying to figure out who he is.

The main problem is that our protagonist Naoya is a loud, unpleasant, incurable boob whose hollow-headedness and aw-shucks feigned righteousness aren’t nearly enough to excuse his conduct throughout this episode. Saki is clearly NOT into him dating someone else—Period! End of Story!—but he blows past her boundaries like a rom-com Tazmanian Devil, while also using the improbably keen and willing Nagisa as a cute prop.

In a just world, Saki and Nagisa would go off and be good friends together, leaving Naoya in punitive solitude to reflect on his many, many missteps. Instead the show seems primed to reward him again and again for his despicable behavior. We know from the jump that he mercilessly hassled Saki into agreeing to date him, as if the idea of “good old fashioned persistence” or “not taking no for an answer” were noble qualities in a young man.

To then present to Saki an almost comically ideal second girl he just met and corner her with the cruel ultimatum of “I’m either dating both of you or just her” just screams bad faith. Naoya can go on about being “upfront” and “honest” all he wants; bottom line is he’s a selfish jerk for putting Saki through everything he has. I just plain don’t like the guy, there’s no indication he’s going to become any more palatable. Even if he did, I’d resent the responsibility of nurturing his redemption foisted upon his girlfriends.

A anime that earnestly explores how three young people come to terms with their polyamory and navigate the difficult waters of that practice is an interesting, worthwhile concept. It doesn’t even have to take it super seriously! All I ask is that it approach that concept from a remotely informed angle, and not just freaking wing it. Or heck, at least be fair: have Nagisa or Saki present Naoya with a second boyfriend!

Instead, Girlfriend, Girlfriend, like its pushy MC, noisily demands we accept its non-negotiable, unreasonable, unbalanced, and above all disrespectful terms, for the sake of some kooky fun. I just don’t think I have the patience for it.

 

Higehiro – 13 (Fin) – Not the Last Time

With Yoshida having said his piece and even kinda-sorta getting through to Sayu’s awful mom, it’s Sayu’s turn to talk to her. She takes a page out of Yoshida’s playbook by prostrating herself, and once again, her mom almost loses it over not wanting to apologize for anything. But she does at least finally understand that he’s the only parent Sayu has, and it really helps Sayu to hear that from her.

Having taken the first step towards détente with her mom, Sayu slips into Yoshida’s bed one more time in the night, asking if he wants to do it just once so they won’t forget each other. As always, Yoshida’s answer is the same; “no”, and “knock it off!” At the airport, after receiving thanks and refusing cash from her brother, Sayu confesses her love to him, and vows to visit him again when she’s an adult. This isn’t goodbye.

That said, when it finally hits Yoshida that Sayu is gone and with her the entirety of the cozy found family they built together, he can’t help but tear up. Even if he followed her easy recipe, his miso soup just can’t measure up to her’s. That said, as time passes, Yoshida settles back into a life without Sayu, which still contains Mishima and Gotou, who continue to battle for his heart at work.

It seems neither has a shot, as Yoshida has become close to Asami, who is apparently now an adult and no longer has a tan or bleached hair. He’s ready to meet her at the stargazing spot when he arrives home to behold a familiar sight: a young woman sitting by his entrance. It’s Sayu, now a high school graduate and evidently an adult.

The two go through the same exchange as when they first met. It looks like whatever Yoshida’s got going on with Asami (if anything), Sayu didn’t waste any time getting back to the guy she fell for—the man she’s glad she ran away and met.

This is all fine—really, it’s fine—but I’ll admit to suffering a bit of Higehiro fatigue. Considering how these last three episodes languished, a thirteenth episode felt like one too many.

Higehiro – 12 – We Have to Talk

So yeah, things are not off to a great start when the first thing Sayu’s mom does upon laying eyes on her for the first time in half a year is slap her in the face. It’s super awkward, and continues to be so, because they’ve entered Sayu’s mom’s castle and she’s in charge. Issa, as much of an independent and successful adult as he may be, still shuts up when his mom tells him to, which is often.

The discussion moves to the dining room, where it becomes clear Sayu’s mom isn’t interested in empathizing with Sayu as the young woman she is, let alone see her as a daughter to unconditionally love. Instead, she immediately airs her grievances, citing all the rumors that have cropped up since she disappeared.

She’s not glad her little girl is home, but still angry she left, because of how it affected her. It’s also clear she suspects Yoshida of taking advantage of her. Sayu does her best to state her case and demonstrate how she’s grown, but her mom has long since developed cloth ears to anything she says, no matter how true or perceptive it may be.

Once she inevitably declares that she wishes she had never given birth to Sayu, which, just fuck you, you despicable c-word—Yoshida, who had been sitting calmly and quietly the whole time, almost picks up his glass of iced tea and throws it in the bitch’s face. But rightly realizing that would accomplish nothing and possibly even hurt Sayu more, he does the opposite.

He calmly speaks from the heart about how just as a parent can’t choose the child they have, the child can’t pick the parent either. The difference is, a parent is (usually) an adult, and thus responsible for their life. Children aren’t. They need to be cared about and for by parents, or they can’t become proper adults themselves. If Sayu’s mom doesn’t want that responsibility, Yoshida would happily take it from her, adopting Sayu and raising her until she’s a real adult.

But he can’t do that, because Sayu has a mom, and she will never not be her mom. So he prostrates himself and begs her to take care of Sayu. Issa follows his lead and does the same. Faced with this unexpected groveling, Sayu’s mom simply freaks out, and Yoshida and Sayu have to leave the house while Issa tries to calm her down.

As Sayu and Yoshida sit outside and wait, Yoshida can’t fight back tears, lamenting just how much worse the situation between Sayu and her mom turned out to be. Sayu is surprised, but also can’t stop herself from crying once she sees him doing it. But it’s a good cleansing cry that transitions into looking up at the beautiful night sky and holding hands in solidarity.

Even though things are not great, they’re going to be alright. Sayu feels forgiven after Yoshida’s groveling, and after making her piece with her friend on the rooftop last week, feels confident in being able to stand for herself. She also admits that things aren’t going to get better with her mom overnight, but neither of them have even given it a try, so that’s really the first step.

Issa comes out, telling Yoshida that bowing before their mom seemed to do the trick. She’ll insist Sayu live there until graduation, and as long as she doesn’t cause problems for her, she’ll “leave her alone.” It sounds like more selfishness and an inability to see Sayu as anything other than a burden and a hassle, but again, we’re at the start of something. Sayu and her mom will have to adopt and entirely new way of interacting with each other, and that will take time.

What’s important is that not only Sayu is willing to put in the work to give it a try, but Sayu’s mom is too. After Yoshida meets with her again to apologize for lecturing her before, she asks if nothing really went on, he answers truthfully, and she seems to believe him. What puzzles her is why he’d go so far for her daughter, to which he can only say “because I met her that night, in that moment.”

Surely Sayu’s mom must understand how something like that might work; she was, after all, presumably in love with Sayu’s father. She simply didn’t know of any way to keep him around other than the hail mary of having Sayu. When it didn’t work and he left anyway, she put all of her scorn into her.

But she seems to finally understand that it can’t go on like that anymore. Sayu ran away to get away from her, but now she’s back, and she’s grown a little more. It’s up to her, the parent, to ensure that growing up is completed. So she’ll talk with Sayu about their future together, however much of it there ends up being, and go from there. And Yoshida will go back to Tokyo in the morning. But it’s a good thing he came.

 

Higehiro – 11 – Someday Is Here

This week begins with Sayu saying goodbye to Asami and Tokyo and taking a plane to Hokkaido with her brother and Yoshida, and ends with her returning home after more than a half a year of running away. If that sounds to you like not enough material to fill a whole episode, well, that’s when I must bring up one of the major cons of this penultimate outing: it’s padded within an inch of its life.

Whether its on the oddly-proportioned plane and its odd-looking seats, or during the two to three hours when Issa is off doing business and Yoshida and Sayu hang out in a café, scenes just feel artificially far longer than they either need to be or should. Granted, it’s Sayu’s first time on a plane or in a café with a friend, but when she held up an hourglass, I couldn’t help but think Can we maybe get a move on?

While a detriment early on, I’ll fully admit that Sayu’s trip to her school, which neither Yoshida nor Issa knew she’d request, is actually very effectively paced, as we feel with her the precise and growing dread of drawing closer and closer to the spot on that damned rooftop where her only friend’s life ended—and her life changed forever.

Honestly, I don’t know if or how she’d have been able to do this without Yoshida, so it’s very much a good thing he came along. Even an adult would have a hard time returning to the spot where their friend died for any reason. Add to that the fact Sayu witnessed Yuuko jump and blames herself for it, and you have yourself a brutal veritable trifecta of trauma.

When Sayu blames herself for Yuuko jumping, Yoshida had to be there to tell her she was wrong, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t that she didn’t really care about Yuuko, but cared too much. Her desire to help her fight the bullies wasn’t a bad instinct, even though things went terribly wrong. And frankly, Sayu wasn’t Yuuko’s entire life and can’t be expected to be such…she had her own life, and problems.

Thanks to Yoshida’s support, Sayu is able to wail with grief, letting it all out, until a stiff wind reveals the nearly-full moon and seemingly blows away the ghost of Yuuko that was haunting her. On their way back to the car, Yoshida asks if she’s okay now, and she answers quite correctly “not at all”…but she will be. She’s going to work towards the time when she can remember Yuuko and smile, rather than cry.

After such an emotionally draining experience at school, it almost seems cruel to then drive Sayu back home, even though she says she’s ready to go. After all, nothing in that house is worse than what happened on that rooftop, except for her mother’s last words to her before she ran away, which was to ask if Sayu killed her friend.

For all of the learning and growing up Sayu has done in the last few months, at least at first blush it looks like her mother has learned absolutely nothing. Issa tries to stand purposefully in front of both Sayu and Yoshida, but their mom pushes him out of the way to give Sayu a vicious slap to the face. That’s how she chooses to greet her. Not a great start!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 10 – A Warm Place

While Yoshida does his level best to hide it, Mishima and Hashimoto can tell he’s devastated by Sayu’s imminent departure, and how he’s mitigating it by trying to bury himself in his work. While he has many reasons to worry about the welcome Sayu will received from her mother upon returning to Hokkaido, her big brother Issa isn’t one of them.

Issa meets with Yoshida after work to bow in apology for the rude things he said the other day, while also asking him earnestly to continue taking care of Sayu in the time they have left together. He reveals how Sayu was their mother’s last best chance to keep their womanizing dad around, refusing to get an abortion. Alas, the asshole left them anyway.

Sayu’s mom wasn’t equipped to love a girl who was the symbol of her failure to keep the man she loved in her life, and so Sayu received no parental love whatsoever, something Issa believes every child needs. Honestly, it’s a wonder Sayu isn’t a lot more scarred.

While it’s nice to be reminded that Sayu’s brother is a legit good guy, if what he’s said is true, Sayu’s mom may simply be incapable of loving Sayu—or if she does love her on a fundamental/biological level, has never been able to express it. Why would that change when she returns home?

Later, Sayu presents Yoshida with a parting gift: a hand-written and illustrated cookbook with all of his favorite dishes she’s made for him over time. I couldn’t help but let out a loud awwwwwww that a roommate must’ve thought was me reacting to a cute puppy video. It’s such a cute, warm gift, and filled with love.

Sayu’s next parting gift is to share with Yoshida the view Asami shared with her, along with the wisdom she imparted about how even the tiniest stares have pasts and futures. Asami accepted Sayu and became her first real girl friend, just as Yoshida took her in with only the best intentions when everyone before had the worst.

Sayu doesn’t see Yoshida as simply “some guy who shared his apartment with her” for a while. That she met him when she did may well have saved her life, and she’ll never forget that, looking back fondly on the time she stopped running away, settled down, and found a way back.

Sayu admits that she’s tried to leave a few times while Yoshida wasn’t home, but has been unable to do so. Ultimately, he means enough to her not to want to leave without saying a proper goodbye. Because in all honesty, she kinda wants to stay with him forever. But she can’t settle her past unless she goes home.

Ichinose Kana does some really lovely voice work here, and has indeed done much of the heavy lifting in a show that doesn’t have the best production values. She even moves Yoshida to tears, because a part of him doesn’t want her to leave, both because he fears what might go down in Hokkaido, and because he’s become so accustomed to her living with him. He’d no doubt say she saved him just as he saved her.

Back at work, the ever-practical Mishima, independent of her individual crusade to win Yoshida’s heart, says if it’s so unbearable to say goodbye to and part with Sayu, then mabe he shouldn’t, and should instead follow her to Hokkaido. Sure, it would mean leaving his job, but both Mishima and Hashimoto doubt he considers his job or whatever project he’s working on to be anywhere near as important to him as Sayu.

In fact, it pisses Hashimoto off to no end that Yoshida tries—badly—to pretend otherwise, like when Asami calls him saying Sayu has disappeared and isn’t answering her phone. It takes Hashimoto telling Airi that Yoshida are feeling sick and going home early, and Mishima taking over Yoshida’s work for the day, to get him out of there.

While giving him a ride, Hashimoto expresses to Yoshida how it pisses him off that his best friend knows what to care about the most, but pretending he doesn’t. As his best friend, Hashimoto knows what Yoshida won’t admit: wanting what’s best for Sayu, or wanting whatever will make her happy, and his own fear of being apart from her aren’t mutually exclusive.

Sayu is fine (don’t scare me like that, show!); her phone simply died while she was waiting outside Yoshida’s office to surprise him and see where he worked; he and Hashimoto must’ve just missed crossing paths with her. Airi and Asami are there with her, and Yoshida acts like a worried dad when he sees her. This marks the first time Hashimoto lays eyes on Sayu, and seeing her makes him immediately understand why Yoshida is scared of losing her.

That night, the very last night together in Yoshida’s apartment, Sayu asks if she can climb into bed with him. Not for anything weird, but just for some warmth and human contact between two people who have come to mean much more to each other than they’d initially expected.

Sayu asks if she’d have grown up into a “normal girl” if Yoshida had been her dad. Yoshida should’ve answered by saying there’s nothing abnormal about her, she’s a lovely person who has admirably hung in there under abnormal and suboptimal circumstances. Okay, maybe that’s a little too wonky for the mood of that scene.

But whether he had decided earlier that evening, or right there in that bed, Yoshida tells Sayu he’ll come to Hokkaido with her, to keep an eye on her and see her mom with her. Sayu can’t contain her elation upon hearing those words. There’s nothing wrong with going back home to settle your past, but there’s nothing saying you have to do it alone…particularly if you’re someone who’s experienced enough loneliness for a lifetime.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 09 – The Things She Carried

Like Sayu, I was dreading the day someone from her family finally found her and forced her to come home…but that isn’t what happens. It turns out Issa is just as decent and kind a person as Yoshida, and doesn’t jump to conclusions even when Yoshida and Sayu greet him at the door in their PJs.

Instead, he’s the latest in a long line of refreshingly reasonable, level-headed human beings that populate Higehiro and make it feel more real. He’s not simply doing their mother’s bidding; he wanted to be the one who found Sayu, because he loves her and is worried about her.

Issa is greatly relieved Sayu managed to find a good soul who took her in without asking for anything inappropriate, and takes both of them at their word when they say nothing’s happened. As a high-achieving corporate type, I imagine Issa trusts his instincts when it comes to reading people.

But that’s not all: Issa can also tell, even if Sayu can’t, that she’s taken some important steps forward as a person. He notes how she’s more able to speak her mind, as she explains why she needs a few more days to think about things. He’s proud and caring n a way only a big brother can be, and grants her one more week.

I have to say, I never imagined in a million years that Issa would be such a good guy, especially considering the uncomfortable way the series has handled the bastard who took her in for sex and ended up her co-worker. But it’s not the show’s fault I automatically expect the worst…it’s because men, and especially anime men, are so often just that…the worst.

Of course, women are the worst too, as we learn when Sayu invites Asami over and sits her and Yoshida down to finally tell them about everything that’s happened that led her to run away. In effect, she’s unloading all of the burdens she’s carried before two friends who are all too happy to help share that load. Her first step in getting ready to go back is telling the people important to her about where she came from.

Sayu and her mother never got along. Her mother put all of her hopes and aspirations into her firstborn son Issa, and never had a kind word for Sayu. Because she never received love, Sayu didn’t bother putting any effort into anything, be it academics or socializing. She was alone, emanated a “stay away” aura, and came to prefer it that way.

But along came another outcast in Yuuko, for whom Sayu’s repelling aura had the opposite effect. Yuuko always told Sayu she was pretty and cool—as pretty and cool as Yuuko claimed not to be—and the two became fast, close friends. But Sayu’s looks and unimpeachable “goodness” kept the other girls from bullying her directly when she turned down a guy one of them liked, so they started bullying Yuuko instead.

Yuuko always said Sayu looked best when she was smiling and happy. But as the bullying intensified and Sayu dug in her heels, determined to stand beside Yuuko and fight for her, she stopped smiling and laughing, and was always depressed, because she felt responsible for her friend’s suffering and felt powerless to stop it.

Yuuko, however, felt differently. When Sayu told her she’d support her and fight for her against the bullying, it hurt Yuuko more than anything, as she believed she was ruining Sayu’s happiness by deigning to become friends with her in the first place.

So one day, Sayu found Yuuko standing on the wrong side of the balcony, waiting for her. Yuuko told her what happened was her fault, but it would be better if she were no longer in her life. Before leaping to her death, Yuuko asked Sayu to keep smiling, obviously in no mental state to realize how hard that would be if she killed herself.

Witnessing her first and only friend commit suicide for her sake would have been plenty of trauma for any teenager or adult to bear, but that wassn’t the end of Sayu’s suffering. As the Ogiwara household became besieged with press and stories and rumors of the true cause of Yuuko’s death, her mother did all the exact wrong things, only exacerbating Sayu’s despair.

Rather than support her daughter and help her grief, she blamed her for their predicament, and even went so far as to ask, seriously, if Sayu really did kill Yuuko. That despicable question is the last straw for Sayu, and you really can’t blame her for not wanting to spend one more second inside that house with that despicable woman. Instead, it’s Issa who offers Sayu a shoulder to cry on as she prepares to run away on foot.

Demonstrating he was just as empathetic and kind back then as he is in the present, he actually helps his sister get the distance and time she needs, giving her $3000 for a decent hotel and food for two weeks, if she promises to call him if she ever gets into trouble. If there’s a right way to run away, this was it: acknowledging and respecting what Sayu needed, but building checks into the arrangement.

But even with those measures in place, Issa would still need Sayu to actualy call him if she got in trouble, and she never does that. As she burns through her cash, she continues to be crushed by isolation and self-loathing, with no one there to help pull her out of her downward spiral. Issa’s mistake wasn’t getting Sayu away from their mom, it was sending Sayu away all by herself when she was in no condition to be entirely alone.

The episode includes a scene we previously saw only a flash of, in which Sayu masturbates and looks down at her hand afterwards. As this happens before she first sleeps with a man, I’m not sure why such a graphic scene was included, except to underscore that there was really not much for Sayu to do during this time but sleep, eat, and pleasure herself, and none of it was helping.

When Issa calls Sayu to check on her, her battery dies, and she tosses her phone out, believing in that moment that his kindness was merely pity she didn’t want or deserve. She wanders the streets, bumps into a man, and when she explains her situation he offers her a place to stay. He eventually asks for sex in return, and Sayu gives in, though doesn’t even remember the name of her first. She then went from guy to guy, trading sex for shelter, until ending up on Yoshida’s doorstep. The rest, we know.

The first to speak after her tale of woe is Asami, who gives Sayu the affection she needs and tells her just how hard she hung in there all this time. Having gotten all of this out, Sayu breaks down, having a much-needed cathartic cry. Once she’s calmed down and in bed, Asami asks Yoshida on the balcony what he’s going to do about her.

Yoshida says it’s up to Sayu’s family to figure this out and it’s not his place to interfere. Asami points out that’s not what she asked, idiot, and again asks: what does he want to do? He may say he’s a stranger, but he’s not; he and Asami are as much family to Sayu as Issa, and certainly more than Sayu’s mom.

What they want matters too, especially if it aligns with what Sayu herself wants. But first those things must be said, just as the things Sayu carried needed to be said to fully understand where she’s been, and determine what she should do. It’s not just Sayu who needs to think about things in the week she has left.

Higehiro – 08 – Such Sticky Sweet Sorrow

In hindsight, it was already over for Sayu the moment Issa showed up at her workplace. A man of her brother’s means and drive surely wouldn’t rest until his little sister had been found. Even though Sayu knows this this, and understands this is probably It for her months-long excursion, she’s understandably shaken by the close call, and freezes up. Rather than take immediate action to soften the inevitable blow, Sayu retreats to her happy place: buying snacks for her and Yoshida, who will be at the office late.

But more to the point, Sayu once again places someone or something—in this case Yoshida’s work and her obligation to handle the chores—before herself, even though well within her rights to insist upon being the priority. Her brother finding her also affects Yoshida quite a bit, and in more ways than one—psychologically, legally, etc.—yet Sayu keeps quiet. She doesn’t bother Yoshida.

Thankfully, just as her brother and his employee are about to spot her, Sayu rings into Yuzuha, who, after hearing that Sayu doesnt want to be found, helps hide her. We learn she does this as much to help Sayu out as she does to take the temperature of Sayu and offer some unsolicited but very much needed advice; even some tough love.

In yet another example of how Sayu’s youth has not gone the way most kids her age have, Yuzuha learns Sayu can’t sing with her, because she doesn’t know any songs, because she never had any friends with whom to go to karaoke. Yuzuha surely sympathizes with Sayu, but she’s also more concerned with giving her a thorough reality check than sparing her feelings.

As such, she sits down next to Sayu and asks her, if her pursuers are already here, and she has so little time left, what is she doing shopping? I don’t think Yuzuha is right when she says Sayu “doesn’t get it”, but she is right that Sayu isn’t taking this as seriously as she should. Not just that people are looking for her, but that she and Yoshida seem to have become co-dependent.

One can argue as a practical matter whether Yuzuha the character has really spent enough time with the two of them to make that determination so confidently, but that doesn’t really matter to me, because as much or as little as Yuzuha is assuming, she’s absolutely correct that Yoshida and Sayu have become far too comfortable with their arrangement.

I gave Yuzuha grief in an earlier episode for essentially reading both Yoshida and Airi the riot act for the way they’re going about their lives, but while her little stalking incident is still a mark against her, I for one am glad Yuzuha is here as the voice of reason. Sure, she has a massive conflict of interest in being literally in love with Yoshida (which is its own can of worms), but Yuzuha is no kid.

At this point I trust her more than anyone else to see the forest for the trees. That’s why she can love Yoshida, see the way he looks at Sayu when he arrives, and stay behind in the karaoke room to cry her eyes out, while still being very much in the right about how tremendously unprepared either Yoshida or Sayu are for what isn’t coming down the pike—but has already freaking arrived!

The remainder of the episode sets to work painstakingly validating Yuzuha’s concerns. I can’t blame her taking a rain check considering her feelings for Yoshida, but it really would have been better if Yuzuha had joined them for dinner. At least then, she might’ve been able to steer Sayu towards telling Yoshida that she’s close to being found.

Instead, Sayu says nothing to Yoshida about her brother, choosing to ignore her fate. The two see a poster for the Summer Festival, and in one of the more awkward transitions of the show, the episode cuts from one night to the next night, with Sayu resplendent in her pink yukata,gold obi, and geta. 

Then they go on a date that would be adorable, except for the fact that it’s an indulgence neither of them can really afford at the moment. I can’t really blame Yoshida—he’s in the dark about Sayu’s brother and wants Sayu to have another “normal high school girl” experience.

At the same time, I can’t really blame Sayu for not suddenly turning to Yoshida and saying the jig is up. After all, she hasn’t been to a summer festival since she was a little girl, wasn’t allowed to eat cotton candy even once, and has never been as close to fireworks as she and Yoshida end up being.

The temptation to forget about her imminent doom for just one night proves too strong to resist, but like a yukata rental, the quickly-melting cotton candy, and the fleeting light from the fire fireworks, the trappings of normalcy in which she seeks refuge are all too temporary.

Their interactions throughout are charged with romantic tension. When he sheepishly compliments her yukata, she asks, just under her breath so he can’t quite hear, if it’s prettier than Gotou-san’s. She feeds him some of her cotton candy. When a kid bumps into her, of course Yoshida takes her hand to keep her from falling, and she decides they should keep holding hands throughout so they won’t get lost.

Yoshida knows that were it not for Sayu, he’d have never gone to the festival. Images of his past life without her flash by in his head; it’s a place he’s not ready to return to. When he exits those thoughts, Sayu is no longer holding his hand, and he calls out for her. She’s right behind him, and teases him for thinking she’d disappeared, but we cut to his five-o’clock shadow as he asks, also just under his breath, if she’s really going home.

Even after the fireworks are over, Sayu keeps looking up at the sky. She recalls how she gave all the other guys an alias, but when she met him, her real name just came out. The moment arrives that has arrived in so many romantic anime where there’s either a confession and/or kiss or a failed/thwarted attempt at either.

Instead of either, Yoshida wisely gives Sayu a nice, platonic head pat. Sayu looks disappointed, but quickly smiles. She knows, even if she wasn’t a teenager, Yoshida is sure would have taken her in…and just as sure they wouldn’t have had sex.

Of course, while she knows this, and Yuzuha and Airi and Asami know this, the person to which that very crucial distinction matters most does not know this, at least not yet. That means when Yoshida comes to the door in his pajamas and Sayu is standing behind her in hers, Issa has absolutely no way of knowing Yoshida wasn’t sleeping with his sister.

Even so, Ogiwara Issa’s entire character as we know him thus far is that he’s polite but determined to find her, and now he has. His brief smirk seems more out of relief to have succeeded than a reaction to just how screwed Yoshida is. But that smirk soon straightens into a more serious face as he announcesnot proposes—what’s going to happen. He’s taking Sayu home.

Yoshida may have something to say about that, and Issa may be open to hearing him out, but because this is there first interaction, depending on the level of assumptions Issa is willing to level against him, I can’t imagine anything Yoshida says will move him. I guess we’ll find out eventually, but with next week’s episode entitled “Past”, we may have to wait longer than we should.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 07 – What Then?

It’s telegraphed from the beginning of the episode: someone who knows Sayu (or is working for them) has found her. There’s no other reason a suspicious black car would keep showing up at the konbini where she works, and Sayu is right to be weary. After all, she’s committed to working towards a future for herself, but hasn’t had enough time to figure out what that might be. Simply going home now would solve nothing.

This week marks the return of Mishima, whom I castigated for literally stalking Yoshida the last time we saw her, but the more I think about it, the more she’s the most realistic of the bunch. She invites herself to lunch with Gotou to express her frustration with her supervisor’s boss: if she’s in love with Yoshida, why is she just sitting around when Sayu could “take” Yoshida from them any day?

Gotou says she simply doesn’t see the point of artificially forcing anything with her and Yoshida. If it happens, it happens, but she’s not going to pretend she can control the feelings of others. Mishima says flat out that Gotou is simply scared to stick her neck out, while she’s far more scared of losing what she could’ve had because she didn’t do anything.

Neither Mishima nor Gotou are presented as the person with the “correct” philosophy…and that’s okay! Anybody who says they have all the answers is trying to sell you something. But Mishima is determined to try her way, and so asks, nay, demands Yoshida’s contact info. Yoshida is taken aback, because he doesn’t consider himself “attractive enough” to be worth giving his contact info for no special reason.

At this Mishima snaps at him for deciding everything by his standards, including his own appeal. She says he has a bad habit of doing what he wants to do while convincing himself its for the sake of others. Then she confesses her love for him (“a little”) and texts him a request to go out for a movie when Sayu isn’t making something special for dinner. He texts back a sheepish “sure”, which lifts Mishima’s spirits.

The next day when Yoshida is off work, he’s just kind of sitting around while Sayu cleans around him. He offers to help, and she pushes him into his bed, tripping in the process and landing on him. Their resulting position is lovingly drawn and lit the way a romantic scene would, and Sayu lingers there before Yoshida asks her to take the wet rag off his shoulder.

After this awkward scene that appears to play right into Mishima’s worst fear —that Sayu has the inside track on winning Yoshida’s heart—Sayu decides to go through a box of stuff in his closet (with his okay…but it’s still hella random!) and finds his high school yearbook, along with a photo of him and his gorgeous senpai girlfriend.

I for one am willing to give both parties the benefit of the doubt regarding the bed incident, but then Yoshida starts talking about how that girlfriend called him “clingy” and that she didn’t want somebody who cared about him so much. Again his standards come through, as he tells Sayu it’s only natural to care about someone, to want them to smile and be happy, and to be the one who makes that happen. Sayu mutters “what about me?”, but Yoshida doesn’t hear (naturally).

Back at work at the konbini, Sayu ends up sharing a shift with her former attempted rapist, which is never something you want. When the mysterious guy in the black Lexus comes in and reveals he’s Sayu’s big brother (and clearly loaded), Yaguchi tells Sayu to hide in the break room and then covers for her.

While I appreciate the show’s dedication to showing the good and bad in people, I really didn’t need this guy performing a remotely redemptive act, and it frankly sours the whole scene, especially when Sayu thanks him. Now, if he actually owned up to what he actually did and earnestly apologized, maybe I’d feel a bit different…but probably not!

As for Ogiwara Kazuto, well…it’s interesting that this President and CEO of Ogiwara Foods is Sayu’s brother and not a parent. I’d also guess he’s about Yoshida’s age. The look on Sayu’s face when she realizes who he was was, and then upon realizing that she may not get to decide when she goes home, is heartbreaking. I’m hoping Kazuto is reasonable and doesn’t just drag her into the car, but Sayu ran far, far away from these people, so all bets are off.

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