Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 02 – Settling into a Nice if Familiar Rhythm

If the newness of WotaKoi masked it in the first episode, Hiraike Yoshimura’s style has become apparent in the second, as this week’s episode is more of a loosely-connected sequence of joke-dense vignettes with plenty of self-deprecating commentary (and some that references Eva, including Hirotaka-as-Ikari Gendo…Oigakkosan Cameo!)

Where WotaKoi distinguishes itself from Working!! and its various sequels is the speed with which the main couple comes together. Even when Hirotaka and Narumi are a little awkward at work, their friends Koyanagi and Kabakura point out the positive aspects of the other party, and that they’ve made the right choice.

But when Narumi somewhat carelessly admits Kabakura might be more “her type” in earshot of her boyfriend, she draws his ire, and the episode takes on the structure of a multiple-choice RPG, in which her avenue of escape is blocked until Kabakura and Koyanagi—former captains of their schools’ volleyball teams—start going at it, and she exploits the opening to flee.

Hirotaka chases after her, however, which results in the two adults working things out right then and there. She was scared of his reaction, while he was worried she didn’t like him anymore and wonders if it was a bad idea to confess to her.

In response to that, Narumi hugs him tightly, telling him not to say such things. She makes sure he knows she’s happy he confessed, and likes where they’re at. Some initial awkwardness is to be expected in a romance where the two parties work together.

Those initial hiccups in the relationship are all but forgotten in the next segment, in which the quartet decides to go out for drinks after Narumi finishes up some OT work. But because all four of them are otaku, they decide to head to a bookstore first.

Once there, the women split from the men. Narumi and Hirotaka may be dating, but their forms of otakuism differ, which means on occasion they’ll give each other a berth in which to pursue their individual interests.

That’s especially the case on a night when Narumi gets to browse and shot with Koyanagi. Narumi has always hidden her otakuism from her friends, and feels liberated for finally not having to. Koyanagi, for her part, wants Narumi as a cosplay partner.

The result of the group’s extended shopping trip to the bookstore is that everyone other than Hiyotaka bought so much stuff and they’re so eager to read it, they skip going out for drinks altogether, part ways for the night, and stay up way too late. The next day they’re all groggy at work, which might actually work in Hiyotaka’s favor with regards to his attempts to learn how to wink!

While I’m sure it will expand to more people before too long, this is a fun quartet of people so far, consisting of a definitely-together-yet-casual couple and a long-standing love-hate/will-they-won’t-they. Those two kinds of dynamics on display lend balance to the proceedings, and the volume of jokes is high enough that even if some might not land huge laughs, there’s always more to come.

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Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 14 – Forest of Illusion

CCS:CC is a show replete with beautiful pastels and idyllic scenes of Sakura’s lovely, happy life, but from its first moments this is an episode that throws a number of strange and even unsettling images into the mix, starting with Sakura waking up to find Meiling and Kero-chan right in her face, trying to compete to see who has the more intense face (it causes the first of ten Sakura “hoeees!” in the ep).

Sakura with her new ‘do and Meiling meet up with their friends at a shrine market, but Syaoran is running late because he’s doing some rather intense magical training, no doubt to be able to support Sakura when the going gets tough.

It’s a fun and pleasant day as usual, until Sakura and only Sakura starts seeing animal ears and tails on all of her friends. They even start “talking” like the animals they represent, until the very environment around them starts to blur and twist and Sakura finds herself in a great grassy valley with a planet in the purple sky.

This is one of the trippiest cards since the Escher-esque labyrinth, and Sakura doesn’t have a clue where she is and how to change her increasingly animal friends back. She can’t even catch up to them, as they scatter and run when she approaches, eventually settling down at the base of a massive baobab tree.

Sakura is scared, and things suddenly get scarier. A storm swoops in, and a lightning bolt splits the tree in pieces, causing it to burst into flames. As it begins to fall on her animalized friends, time suddenly stops, and Syaoran literally tears through the fabric of the environment to join Sakura.

The time magic he used has gassed him, and the magic won’t last long but he still manages to calm a panicking Sakura down with a big hug, urging her to control her breathing and think about the situation. Sakura realizes she wanted to go to the zoo, so the card turned her friends into animals. When she became scared, it made things scarier.

Once sufficiently calm, Sakura is able to break out of the illusion and secure the “Mirage” card that caused all of the trouble. Everyone ends up back at the shrine, none the worse for wear save Syaoran, who is still exhausted from his use of powerful magic.

Meiling acknowledges her cousin Syaoran doing his best for Sakura’s sake (and the fact he calls her “Sakura”), while expressing her aggravation that she has no magic with which to help out. Still, neither Meiling nor any of Sakura or Syaoran’s friends need magic to support them; their friendship is something worth becoming stronger to protect.

I imagine Sakura will have to grow stronger still in order to face whatever nefariousness Yuna D. Kaito is up to.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 12 (Fin) – Never Gonna Give Up, Never Gonna Let Down

For the record, I was never against Akira running again, I just wanted it to be because she wanted to do it, not because Haruka or anyone else compelled her to. In any hard endeavor, if your heart isn’t in something, quality suffers, and its evident for all.

What I learned from this finale is that both Akira and Masami got nudges of varying kinds from their respective best friends. One of them, Haruka, may have pushed a little to far in her zealousness, but to her credit, is aware of that, and how it may well be selfish of her to put Akira on the spot.

At the same time, Haruka is being true to what she wants, even if it’s selfish or may not work out; even if Akira never speaks to her again, she had to make her stand, in case there was just the slightest glimmer of an ember of passion remaining in post-op Akira’s heart.

Despite the differing levels of intensity, both “friend nudges” ultimately succeed, because there were indeed embers in the hearts of both Akira and Masami, which only needed a little bit of oxygen to reignite. Perhaps due to how receptive he was to Chihiro’s advice, Masami is back to belting out pages through the night, nearly causing a dozen cigarette fires.

It’s at this point that we return to the budding romance of Nishida and Yoshizawa, never an unwelcome prospect owing to their infectious chemistry and general adorability. Both are unsure of their futures, but while Yoshizawa is simply going to college and will figure out what to do later, Nishida has decided to start on the path of hair-styling.

Yoshizawa was the one that nudged her in that direction, fortifying her courage with his confidence in her ability and satisfaction with the work she’s done and, if she’ll have him, will continue to do into the future. Bawwww.

Meanwhile, Haruka continues to wait for Akira, spotting two middle schoolers sharing a scarf while scouting the high school and remembering when she and Akira did the same exact thing, because it was a school that, according to its name, can “see the wind,” something they wanted to do together.

While Kondo is away at the Head Office again, sparking rumors that he’s soon to be promoted, his son Yuuto suddenly asks Akira if she’s fast, and whether she’ll teach him. Akira just as suddenly agrees, and does a really good job!

When Yuuto falls, he asks if he wants a break, but he refuses, not wanting to give up; wanting to reach the finish line even if he’s last, or else it will feel like he never ran. Just when it sounds like a “from the mouths of babes” moment, Yuuto makes it clear it was his dad that said this stuff to him, adding that he wasn’t going to give up either.

When she catches Kondo in the office, he thanks her for teaching his son, and she tells him what Yuuto told her. Akira can tell he’s gotten back into writing novels, and he tells her he’s essentially added a promise to a promise one from which he’s both suffered and learned, wondering out loud if she has a similar promise she’s forgotten.

That night, she remembers. Unpleasant and overdone as it was, Haruka’s confrontation nevertheless helped unsheath a still-warm ember in her heart. Kondo’s inspiring words and those of his son then reignited it.

Kondo finally announces why he’s been at the head office so much: it’s not that he’s getting promoted, but he has to master a new menu…which he hasn’t been able to do. His coworkers assume it’s another episode of their pitiable bed-headed manager bumbling about again…but nobody knows that he hasn’t kept up with the new menu because he’s so absorbed in writing. Nobody, that is, except Akira.

When he even leaves the menu book behind, Akira decides to tracks him down to return it. She remembers that after the fall that tore her Achilles, Haruka urged her to get back up, and she did, limping across the finish line. She didn’t give up.

Kondou encounter her in a light jog, and after what happened the last time she chased someone down, Kondou is worried. But Akira is perfectly fine, telling him “It’ll stop raining soon.”

Kondou is about to say something but is interrupted by a phone call—no doubt the head office tearing him a new one. But as Tachibana quietly walks away, the rain stops, the clouds part, and a lusciously gorgeous deep blue sky opens up, reflected in the pools of fallen rain.

He calls out her name once more, and she comes running, practically throwing herself into his arms. And she’s fine, no re-aggravation. They resolve to fulfill their own promises—his writing, her running—they’ll let each other know right away, whenever that may be. Akira then texts Haruka, indicating her desire for them to “see the wind” together again.

It’s a lovely end to a lovely show to put a very necessary pause on their romance. Rekindling fires is one thing, keeping them going long and strong is another. It takes time, dedication, effort, and care. As such, I imagine by the time Akira makes some good progress fulfilling her promise, she’ll be sufficiently old to remove the elephant from the room of their relationship.

However things go, it’s good to see Akira and Kondou end up in such a good place. They both know what they have to do, but more importantly, they know what they want to do, and are going to give it their all—come what may.

ReLIFE – 17 (Fin)

Aw HELL yeah! I didn’t ask for much, just a happy yet satisfying ending that felt earned, and ReLIFE delivered exactly that. Initially framed by Yoake’s final report, things start out in the afterglow of Kaizaki and Hoshiro’s confessions. All their friends are super-excited for them, but they keep it very cool and low-key, which is just like two teenagers who are actually adults.

They’re both simply savoring every day they have left together, because they don’t have a lot of them. It makes you wish they’d gotten together much sooner…but then again, I couldn’t have asked for a better way for them to finally realize their feelings for another, and their love only deepens as the days pass, as evidenced by their late night phone call when simply messaging on LIME won’t cut it.

Graduation Day comes, and Kanzaki manages to graduate by the skin of his teeth (thanks to Oga). There’s goodbyes, notes of goodwill, flowers, smiles…and tears. But there are no tears more bitter than those shed by both Kanzaki and Hoshiro.

He finally gives her a hug, just when she needs one most, and it turns out he needed that hug just as badly. He says it feels like a break-up, even though they’ll see each other at the start of the college term. Hoshiro thanks him for being such a transparent yet kind liar.

And that’s the last they see of each other in their respective ReLifes—with a tearful embrace, assuring each other they’ll never forget each other, even if they know they can’t keep that promise.

Yoake congratulates Kanzaki for a marvelously successful ReLife, telling him he can look forward to very promising job placement in exchange for his cooperation with the experiment, and should hold his head high. Meanwhile, Onoya has her exit interview with Hoshiro, who never really warmed up to her newer support.

Describing her ReLife, Hoshiro describes how her heart is “ripped open” by getting close to people only to lose them, but admits she does feel like she changed “a little.” After taking her pill and falling asleep, Onoya accidentally discovers a marker Hoshiro used to write “I was in love with Kaizaki Arata”, and breaks down at Hoshiro’s failure to hide it better, as once Onoya sees it, she has to get rid of it along with all other evidence. It’s her job, after all.

Fast-forward to a bit of time after Kanzaki regains his 28-year-old appearance and starts interviewing for the jobs ReLife provided. Ultimately, however, he wants nothing more than to help others as he was helped, so he requests a job with ReLife, and is accepted. Now he is the one visiting shut-ins and other wretches, offering a way for them to find themselves again.

At a ReLife company dinner, Kanzaki arrives a bit late, but a space was saved for him. Turns out the seat he takes belongs to Hoshiro, but it’s no big deal or anything, as someone from another part of the restaurant is calling for her. As she turns to walk away, Kanzaki notices the strap on her bag…

At the end of the dinner (well, the first round, but the only round recommended for newbies), it starts to rain, but Kanzaki doesn’t have an umbrella. Just then, Hoshiro appears once more and opens the very same green umbrella the two shared just after confessing. She offers to share it, but Kanzaki politely declines, and she starts to head off on her own…but turns and says she heard the higher-ups calling him a test subject.

She then mentions her own stint as a subject, how it lasted two years, and how her supporter pushed for her to get a job at ReLife, and she took a position in the pharma section. Kanzaki asks if she’d tell him about her ReLife, and she compares it to…fireworks, like the ones she saw at the festival with her friends.

They both latch onto the spectacular yet fleeting nature of fireworks, and eventually both remember flashes of that night when Hoshiro told Kanzaki he was like fireworks. I tellya, I got an absolute thrill out of watching them gradually put the pieces together in their heads.

You could say the fireworks…sparked their memories, heh-heh. Once he recalls Hoshiro in her red yukata looking up at the sky, Kanzaki calls her by her name. Hoshiro needs just a little bit more, but she eventually remembers writing the note on her hand as she cried after taking the pill. And that’s it: in spite of the lab’s efforts, they found and remembered each other…and it didn’t even take that long!

Now, while the ReLife procedures were concluded with all due diligence, I’d like to think both Yoake and Onoya played roles in facilitating a reunion. Yoake accepting Kanzaki’s request to work for ReLife; Onoya predding Hoshiro to work there as well…even telling Kanzaki that Hoshiro’s seat was his in the restaurant.

But while the supports made the conditions more favorable for a happy ending, at the end of the day they were just that, support. It took Kanzaki and Hoshiro being friendly, open, and honest with each other, and especially Hoshiro bringing up how she heard he test subject, like her, at that crucial moment.

If she hadn’t they might have gone their separate ways, perhaps forever. But I’m immeasurably chuffed she did, and the resulting re-connection was nothing short of mesmerizing. Time for some #Adulting!

ReLIFE returned quite out of the blue to rip my heart out with the prospect of tearing apart two lovely people who had only just found each other…only to painstakingly reconstruct that heart, and fill it back up with love until it almost burst all over again, only in a good way!

Of course, you’re mileage may vary, depending on whether you read the entire web manga (I did not) and your particular emotional investment. Clearly, my investment was significant, and one and a half years of time away didn’t dull it in the slightest. This was a big win.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 08

The opening moments of this week’s episode almost felt like a dreaded recap, but thankfully was just meant to establish the fact that Akira and Kondou are FRIENDS! Yes, JUST FRIENDS.

After that hug, the show—and Kondou!—wisely slows things way down while the episode spends a lot more time with the secondary characters that populate the couple’s life, to very pleasing effect. Also, Akira has a big pimple on her right cheek!

Take Yoshizawa: He’s spent many an episode trying to befriend Akira, to absolutely no avail. When Yoshizawa hears Kondou is friends with Akira he wants to be friends too, but Kondou sidesteps the issue by scolding his long bangs, threatening termination before they have a chance to be friends. It’s a joke, but Yoshizawa takes it seriously.

Enter Akira’s other co-worker of similar age, Nishida, who likes Yoshizawa and wants to get closer. She finds one in offering to cut his hair for him after work, which he’s a lot more enthusiastic about than she expected. After he leaves, she and Akira engage in “guy talk” for the first time, to the benefit of both.

Nishida stresses the importance of taking things step by step, which Akira needs to hear, while Akira tells Nishida that a friendship can turn romantic given enough chances for them to get to know one another and deem them more than friends. But there’s no rush!

What’s nice about this post-hug transition is that Kondou doesn’t avoid or ignore Akira; he’s not even bothered or uncomfortable by her presence. This is to be expected: we know, especially from last week, that Kondou is a decent sort, along with being, you know, a full-fledged adult.

As such, Akira uses his loud proclamation of their friendship to take a very logical step: she says “friends text each other”, and successfully acquires his contact info. A little step that brings them closer; now she can converse with him and learn from him even when he’s not around.

As she leaves work she’s practically floating on air, but so are Nishida and Yoshizawa, clearly hitting it off as he’s given a haircut. There’s just good vibes all ’round, and Akira finally gets to dance in giddy delight without being interrupted by a self-important Kase!

The second half expands the show’s horizons to a very satisfying scene between Haruka, arguably Akira’s best friend, and the recently-retired captain of the soccer team, Yamamoto. At first his presence displeases her, especially when he brings up Akira (imitating her almondlike eyes). But when she runs away, he follows, and he gets hurt.

Like Akira, Yamamoto had to leave the club because of a leg injury. Haruka wonders if Akira doesn’t love running anymore. Yamamoto asks if Akira said as much, and if she didn’t, it means that’s not the case. He considers Akira far more talented than him, so while both he and she might still want to play soccer or run, respectively, the high expectations the track star has from both within and without make her extra-cautious.

Yamamoto thinks Akira will be fine, especially when she has friends like Haruka who care about her. It’s just what Haruka needs to hear, and he manages to cheer her up considerably. Like Nishida and Yoshizawa hitting it off, Yamamoto and Haruka simply feel right together, showing that After the Rain isn’t just a one-couple pony!

From there we’re back in the office with Akira doing her homework. She’s unfortunate enough to be applying ointment to her pimple right as the manager comes in, but much more fortunate that the subject of her homework is in Modern Japanese, specifically Rashomon, which he’s recently read, and not for the first time.

I love how into it Kondou gets, calling the very question she’s stuck on a bad one, unless it doesn’t count towards her grade, because it’s a question with many answers depending on the individual. It’s almost fate that Akira has a pimple in the same place as the servant-thief of the story.

The end of the story—with the servant running into the RAIN towards a town to commit a robbery—finishes with the words “what happened to the lowly servant, no one knows,” which Akira believes is the perfect opportunity for a sequel, something Kondou had never considered.

Kondou also says that if he were the thief he’d likely stay under the rashomon, out of the RAIN, to avoid causing trouble, since he’s old and lives timidly. He also sees her pimple as a sign of youth, since he doesn’t get them anymore. It’s all him trying to maintain his stance that he’s not worth Akira’s affection, and that she’s better off with some guy who still gets pimples.

In any case, the discussion is cut short when, while flipping through her book, Kondou finds the same doodles that first got her in trouble with Kase, and the manager retreats. In the meantime, Nishida is on cloud nine and Yoshizawa gets the praise he so desperately wanted from the manager.

While watching a potential couple blossom before her, one of whom she can consider a new friend in Nishida, Akira looks at all the Summer Festival posters Kondou put up and thinks about her older friend Haruka. A couple taps on her phone, and the next we Akira she’s positively resplendent in her yukata, meeting up with an overjoyed Haruka and taking her hand.

Akira has apparently decided to take her time and trust the process vis-a-vis Kondou, having faith that in time a friendship can become more, but not to worry about it so much she can’t enjoy that friendship with him or anyone else. It’s very encouraging that she can contact and hang out with Haruka. Like Haruka, I was worried about her for a little bit there!

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 07

For good and ill, things take a major step forward for Kondou and Akira, though you might not have expected such progress early in the episode. Unable to come right out and ask if it’s okay to text him, Akira resorts to small talk, and ends up praising Kondou a bit too much for his taste while he’s working on spreadsheets.

He abruptly ends their chat by practically snarling the dreaded ‘You don’t know anything about me’—six words people who know plenty about each other say all the timeand the last words somebody who is awfully sure she likes someone wants to hear from the person they like. It’s no coincidence in a show called After the Rain that it starts to rain immediately afterwards.

Those words haunt Akira, but she’s determined to go to work and face the person who said them, even though there’s a typhoon approaching Yokohama. She gets there to find Kondou is out with a cold, and his absence, combined with the stress of their unresolves “spat”, throws her off her game, something Kase notices.

Kase, perhaps not thinking just about himself, warns Akira that Kondou may be trying to protect his position and uncomfortable about her attention to him, while she doesn’t want to lose something that’s “fun for her” again. It’s none of his business, but he manages to hit on what Akira is worried about most: that she’s just being a nuisance.

After work, as the weather gets worse and worse, Akira finds herself at Kondou’s front door, and it’s not as if he can turn her away in such conditions. Still, Akira hides her face in her arms, and tells him what she wants: to know him more.

Kondou apologizes for his earlier words, which he realizes were too harsh, but what he meant was that he’s nobody special who isn’t the adult she thinks he is. When she says he’s wonderful, he scoffs and returns the compiment, but she asks him why, if he’s nobody special, her heart aches so damn much.

Kondou demonstrates his affinity for pure literature by giving her a beautiful, almost lyrical response: youthfulness can be rough and vicious, but the emotions felt during that time become a treasure later in life.

Is she a nuisance? Is she not good enough? Both are absurd questions to Kondou. If anything, he’s grateful to Akira for making him remember the treasured emotions he felt in his youth but had forgotten.

The power is out from the storm, but lightning gives the room a gorgeous otherworldly light. This praise makes Akira blush, cry, and tremble, and all Kondou wants to do in that moment is relieve the anxiety of the girl sitting before him, even if he has no right to do so.

So he slowly draws nearer until she is gently in her arms. While he isn’t ready to call what he’s feeling “love”, he decides there and then that he’ll “get wet along side her in her pouring rain.”

Now, the translation probably doesn’t do that  line justice (and indeed may well do it quite a bit of harm), but I get what he’s saying: if she insists on being in his life with her rough, vicious youthfulness, he’ll weather it as they both weather the storm outside.

I’ll be honest, this scene made me very nervous, as in once-a-line-is-crossed-there’s-no-going-back nervous. But the show, mercifully, keeps things above board (though their two umbrellas falling on each other gave me a scare!), and the hug is just a hug.

With that said, I can’t underscore the stunning beauty and energy of this scene, perhaps the show’s best to date. Everything clicks: lighting, music (an orchestral version of the Aimer ED, “Ref:rain”), and of course, the emotions floating around. Our anxiety over how far this will go matches the characters’. The weight of that anxiety is balanced by the lightness of the ethereal atmosphere surrounding our protagonists. Really good stuff.

When Akira grasps his shoulders harder, Kondou promptly pulls away, tells her he only hugged her “as a friend” (riiight), briefly passes out (he is suffering a bad cold), then comes to and gets Akira into a cab.

The next day at the restaurant, Kondou is back but Tachibana is out with a cold. The rest of the staff remarks on the coincidence of the consecutive absences, but not in any way that would incriminate either party.

Akira is at home, in bed, with a fever and ice pack on her head. She then begins to fantasize about hugging Kondou…naked…and, well, you can surely connect the dots from there, though the editing indicates she keeps her hands above the belt.

Regardless, such is to be expected from a healthy young person who just experienced some of the closet and most emotionally meaningful contact with someone else in her life thus far. Her smittenness is tempered by the fact Kondou said it was only “between friends”

Meanwhile, Kondou smokes alone in the restaurant office, restless and doubtless uneasy about what he might have wrought with that hug, both in Akira’s heart and in his own. Here was a man, who if not content, was certainly resigned to a lonely life doing his job and raising his boy. That certainly seems to have changed. To be honest, nothing in his monologue indicated he desired Akira, but he does care about her very much.

P.S. After reading some discussion on this episode, someone brought up the possibility that Kondou’s “you know nothing about me” wasn’t even directed at Akira, but was a response to the Amazon reviews of the book that he wrote under a pseudonym. The “acquaintance” is actually him! I really like that angle.

3-gatsu no Lion – 32

Perhaps I denounced Junko for playing dirty against Nikaidou; turns out he respects the hell out of the round little guy, and was fully prepared to lose to him…until Nikaidou collapsed.

Between his clueless drinking buddies with their boorish questioning, his two downgrades, and losing his prized racing pigeon Sliver, we see that Junko’s loss to Rei is only the latest of many setbacks in his personal and professional life.

However, things look up after he sends hydrangeas to Nikaidou. Silver also returns, and with it, Junko’s fighting spirit, which he aims to use in the 12th Lion King Tournament.

While ostensibly a detour from the season’s main narrative of Hina’s predicament, it’s still an enjoyable and at times moving character study.

Back to Rei, who celebrates his Newcomer victory by treating the Kawamotos to anything they’d like at a sweet shop.

Akari and Hina end up scaring both Rei and Grandpa by managing to put away prestigious amounts of delicious dessert in complex combinations of texture, temperature, and flavor.

By the time they leave the restaurant, the girls can barely move, and Momo, in classic kid form, waits until they left the nearest restroom to declare she had to pee.

With Akari unable to exert herself too much, Rei carries Momo, while Hina stays by his side. Akari notices that ever since Rei visited Hina in Kyoto, she’s been smiling a lot more.

We flash back to their encounter by the river, where Rei is so kind and accommodating, Hina feels as if she’s back home. Rei and Hina are lovingly framed an rendered in this scene, looking for all the world like a romantic pair, particularly when Hina tries on Rei’s glasses.

But whatever the vibes they emit, Hina has been thoroughly cheered up, to the relief of both Akari and Gramps.

3-gatsu no Lion – 31

Rei is enjoying a big feast with the Kawamotos before he heads off to Osaka for the Newcomer Tournament final, but Hana isn’t. She can’t eat a bite; her stomach hurts. It’s because she’ll be heading off too: to Kyoto, on a multi-day class trip.

Rei immediately knows why Hina is feeling the way she is, and gives what advice he can to help ease her pain, since he’s felt it too. He vividly imagines the hell she’ll have to face while on the trip, ostracized by her peers. She’s going into battle just as much as he is. And like him, she wants to win.

When Rei meets Kawasaki Junko, the game records of his semifinal match with Nikaidou have already said a lot about the guy (except that he looks really old for someone 26 and under). Knowing he couldn’t beat Nikaidou in a quick game, Kawasaki did everything he could to lengthen it, knowing Nikaidou’s health would give out and the match would be his.

Knowing this is how Kawasaki wins fills Rei with rage, and he almost plays right into his opponent’s hands when a voice inside him stays his hand: it’s Nikaidou’s words ringing out: don’t attack, defend; take care of your shogi and yourselfPerservere. It’s what Nikaidou did, even though he failed. It’s what Hina is doing in Kyoto.

Back on course, Rei contains his anger and focuses it on persevering, on enduring the mind games Kawasaki is playing, and by focusing on the shogi, and when the match is over, Rei is the new Newcomer King, while Kawasaki is a fief in the land of losers where he deserves to be for his callus, unchivalrous play.

Rei does not savor the victory long, because he knows Hina’s still out there battling. After a fellow player gives him some stomach medicine Shimada recommended, Rei races to Kyoto by bullet train, and using Hina’s class trip schedule, combs the shopping venue where her class is supposed to be.

Then he remembers his own times of loneliness during such trips, and how a mall full of laughter and fun would be the last place he’d be. Instead, he searches the river, the place back home where she’s always run to be alone.

Her reaction to Rei suddenly appearing there, just when she was about to start crying, is hard to put into words. Poweful? Sure. Heartlifting? You bet. When he was younger, Rei had to face many battles alone.

Now he knows how much better he’d have fared if he had someone beside him to make things even a little more endurable, and happens to have someone in Hina who he can ensure won’t endure her battles alone.

All it took was being there—in that particular time and place—to be hugged, to be a font for her tears, to remind her she isn’t fighting in vain, and that it’s going to be alright.

Owarimonogatari S2 – 01

Owarimonogatari is back, and promises to inch ever closer to the endgame of the sprawling story of Araragi Koyomi and the town “where a white snake once reigned.”

At some point after the “hell” he went through over spring break, Araragi Koyomi visits Gaen Izuko at the North Shirahebi Shrine…and she murders him. He wakes up to find none other than Hachikuji Mayoi (her usual age) there to greet him.

After his customary hug (this one being one of the more elaborate and extreme ones) and a lot of inappropriate contact, Mayoi punishes him with her signature pit bull-like chomp. She informs him of what’s going on: he’s dead and currently in real hell (specifically in Avici, the lowest form of hell, due to his vampirism).

Mayoi is in hell because both her parents outlived her, and so spends eternity stacking up stones by the riverbank. Especially for a little kid, she’s remarkably calm and fine with this, with a “that’s the way things go” attitude.

They then commence an epic, trippy ascent up through the layers of hell so that Koyomi can meet someone. He’s shown all of the moments that preceded his making key decisions in his life, from finding Shinobu to catching Senjougahara to everything else; and the recurring reaction is that if given an opportunity to return to those moments, he wouldn’t change a thing.

His only exception is the incident with Nadeko, but Mayoi assures him he’s being overly tough on himself for not being omnipotent, which no one is.

The long, reminicing journey finally brings him to another iteration of the Shirahebi shrine, where Tadatsuru Teori is waiting for him. It turns out Gaen Izuko’s murder was far from random, but part of a larger plan to exorcise Koyomi of his vampirism. Sending him to hell was merely a side effect.

Teori presents Koyomi with a white snake-like rope back to the world of the living where he belongs, and when he returns, he will no longer be a vampire, which if you as me is huge.

Koyomi worries if he’s really the most worthy person to be resurrected, and Mayoi, punches it into him that of course he is: he loves to be alive, and cherishes his girls and has done far too much for them to simply accept death and a life in hell.

Koyomi turns Mayoi’s own positive vibes onto her, grabbing her at the last minute to drag her back into the living world with him, which she doesn’t seem to have expected, but Izuko is nevertheless pleased he did. Izuko, by the way, is on the cusp of being killed by Shinobu until Koyomi returns; clearly the vampire wasn’t pleased about the stunt the specialist pulled on her master.

Teori also informed Koyomi of the person who requested he exterminate him: Oshino Ougi. Izuko leaves Koyomi, Shinobu and the resurrected Mayoi alone, looking forward to the “battles to come” where she hopes to enjoy a slight advantage.

In the meantime, after a mad, psychedelic metaphysical odyssey through the underworld, Koyomi heads off next for something as mundane as his college entrance exams. 

Tsurezure Children – 05

Ahh, conversations through texting. So fraught with danger. You’d think communication would be a cinch in these heady days of high technology! NOPE. Take Takase and Saki. They both like each other and want to confess, but Saki is too scared to do it in person, so after a string of texts goes very well, she sends that text.

Unfortunately, Takase was about to do the same thing at the same time, but bailed at the last second, instead asking if she’d meet up with him later. But he just had to include a comment about how confessing via text is shitty. And so both Saki and Takase end the evening not as a happy couple…but wishing they were dead.

MOVING ON! Kaga Yuki’s childhood friend Nanase Kaoru joins the astronomy club, and she laments how Yuki’s clearly only there because he has a crush on Sasahara. But when Sasahara steps out for a bit, Kaoru pounces.

She tries in vain to lead an entirely Yuki along to the realization that she likes him, but ultimately has to resort to kissing him, lest their be any doubt. A kiss that Sasahara walks in on, no less! Still, by episode’s end, Yuki is willing to knock on Kaoru’s door for a family errand. They’ll be fine.

LASTLY, we have Kamine Ayaka and Gouda Takeru. Ayaka is worried that since they started going out, things aren’t going so swell with Takeru, making her wonder if he’s not into it. As if to confirm her fears, Takeru is very standoffish after school and even starts talking as if he’s trying to gently but firmly dump her.

But it’s all good; it’s fine…he’s not trying to dump her, he’s saying their awkward tension is what can’t go on…not their relationship. To that end, he wonders if it’s okay if they hold hands. And Ayaka’s instincts were right on at least one front: he avoided her because he was sweaty…which makes her so happy she gloms onto him with glee. Daawww…

Tsurezure Children – 04

For three of the four couples, “futility” is the name of the game this week. Kana and Chiaki are now officially together, but forces conspire to keep them from taking their relationship to a more physical place.

After some initial awkwardness and another one of their little comedy bits, they’re well and truly ready to do the deed (Kana even brought protection), only to be stymied by not one but two rude interruptions by Chiaki’s curious mom. Chiaki, brah, lock your damn door.

I’m finding the more complex relationship rooted in a long-standing friendship the more interesting pairing in TC so far, as demonstrated by my lack of enthusiasm for the two skits in the middle.

Neither the painfully blunt Akagi asserting dominance on the tentative Ryouko, nor Ruruya’s inability to answer Yuki’s confession because he fears she’s just teasing him really resonated for me. Hopefully both stories will go to more interesting places at a later date.

Sugawara and Takano’s latest appearance splits the difference between the first skit I liked and the later two I didn’t. But yet again, the situation is the same for Sugawara: the onus is on him to communicate in no uncertain terms that he likes Takano, that he’s not joking around, and that he wants to be her boyfriend.

He’s worried about being friend-zoned, but at least there’ll be closure. And we know that Takano wishes she was…exactly what she is: someone Sugawara would want to date. These two simply need to get on the same page for once. I think they at least inched a little closer.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 05

It’s an incremental episode with little action, but I can hardly complain when it’s also stuffed full of nice character beats from everyone. Take Nina, going shopping with Mugaro and naturally assuming he’s a girl because he’s so pretty, and dressing him accordingly. Nina cleans up pretty well herself, not that her standard, practical outfit isn’t nice in its own way.

Nina uses her super-strength to negotiate discounts, but it also allows her to stand up against a pimp-like human for torturing his slaves. Brand-new frilly dress or no, she’s ready to rumble with him and his bodyguards when Mugaro uses his red eye to vaporize all of the demon slaves’ collars, causing their former owner and his goons to flee.

Meanwhile, Kaisar is having a crisis of confidence, unsure if he’s worthy of captaining the Orleans Knights in Jeanne d’Arc’s stead. What’s so wonderful is how he expresses this frustration, inviting Rita to lunch, then sounding an awful lot like he’s about to confess to her. Rita is understandably miffed that Kaisar only wants to rant, and punishes him accordingly, while also telling him the old Kaisar of ten years ago may have been useless, but he was better than this Kaisar.

Bacchus’s moral dilemma intensifies when Sofiel pays him a visit complaining that he’s not doing enough to secure the “child;” but it’s only when Nina returns with Mugaro that he starts to suspect Mugaro is the very child he’s looking for. Sofiel thinks Bacchus is pathetic for not caring about staying in the human world forever, and it’s clear at least a part of Bacchus wants to obey her and produce the child…but another part of him doesn’t.

Getting punched by Rita motivates Kaisar to confront the King once more, and gives some very reasoned arguments, but Charioce argues his position well, too, even if he’s a bit overconfident he can become powerful enough to overcome the hatred his hatred will beget. Kaisar rightly believes Charioce’s way of doing things simply isn’t sustainable, and it’s only a matter of time before a large scale demon uprising is upon them (as we see earlier, Azazel is well on his way to starting it). But Charioce says he’s got it. To his credit, he doesn’t begrudge Kaisar living his life the way he chooses, as long as he doesn’t interfere with him.

One of Bahamut’s strengths is its ability to be so stern and serious in one scene, and so lighthearted and comical in the next—and sometimes both in the same scene. So it’s nice to see Kaisar and Charioce’s political debate followed by Bacchus and Hamsa’s ham-fisted attempt to see if Mugaro has two different-colored eyes, only to wake up and creep out Nina, who delivers swift justice and tosses them out of their own wagon.

No huge movement here, but still plenty of solidly entertaining scenes. Nina in particular continues to be a magnetic presence. I could honestly watch and listen to her read the phone book—which makes me that much more excited to see how she’ll fit into the coming confrontation.

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 04

Like GenesisVirgin Soul is about two opposing sides who aren’t willing to compromise in the slightest, thus requiring a third party, impartial or not, to negotiate and avoid disaster. Only this time, the cooler prevailing heads are super-outnumbered, or in Nina’s case, is too much of a wild card herself to enact any change. When Nina hears what the king is doing to innocent demons, she makes a beaten-down Azazel hug her so she can turn into a dragon and put a scare into Charioce.

Instead, all she does is make the king stand in awe of her power, meaning he probably wouldn’t mind using her as a tool in his fight against gods and demons. Nina is, as Azazel says, like a  little Bahamut, which means as chaotic as she can be, she’s far more controllable than the titular beast. She causes plenty of property damage, but she’s in no danger of bringing down the world.

After Azazel’s ill-conceived standoff and Nina’s attack, things slow down considerably, as both are carted away by Rita in Bacchus’ wagon. It’s as good a time as any for Nina to let Azazel (and us) in on who and what exactly she is and how she got to be this way. Unlike other half-dragon children, she wasn’t able to transform easily.

Only when her heart raced from a cute guy does she transform, and then, exposively so. She treats it as a curse and a burden, which it most certainly is from her perspective, as she can’t even remember what she does while a dragon. That kind of loss of control probably isn’t that pleasant, to say the least.

After a half-hearted attempt to seduce Nina (by telling him if she can’t control herself, she should make love to him and let him try), he disappears, leaving Mugaro in Rita and Nina’s care.

Charioce, not totally believing Kaisar’s version of his relationship to Azazel, lets him live regardless since our favorite prettyboy saved the king’s life. Another familiar face is then introduced in the imprisoned Jeanne d’Arc, who won’t join Charioce’s crusade, and may just be the mother of Mugaro.

Then we learn where Azazel went off to: to find the headquarters of the organized demon army that’s itching to go to war with the humans. Azazel is only too happy to lead them in battle.

While there was more exposition and piece-moving than previous episodes, there was still the usual things to like about this Bahamut, not the least of which Nina turning into a dragon again, and her great reactions before and after she does (and her seiyu Morohoshi Sumire is knocking it out of the park). We’ll see if the cooler heads can make any progress with the extremists next week.