More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 07 – Okaeri, Akari

I just want to express my surprise and gratitude that Akari’s gyaru-friends Sachi and Natsumi are actually good people too! When they see Shiori with too many bags of garbage (a powerful metaphor for how accommodating and self-subordinating she is), they offer to help, even conscripting Jirou and Sadaharu when they slouch past.

When Shiori declines to carry a bag with Jirou, it’s a critical hit to his heart, but also shows their accidental kiss has left the two more awkward and distant than ever. Sachi and Natsumi can also tell that Akari must feel something for Jirou at this point, and she doesn’t deny it.

They’re not pushing her towards Jirou or Minami—in fact, they say those aren’t the only two guys in the world. They want her to be happy, and to settle on her own choice on her terms. Opportunity knocks when the girls see a poster for an upcoming fireworks festival.

Naturally, dressing Akari in her yukata is a job for her “husband”, and while her talk with her friends leads to her mentioning Minami more as she teases Jirou, the fact of the matter is, having Jirou dress her is as big a deal for her as it is for him; he just can’t see her red face since he’s behind her. It’s also telling that she says a bow-style obi tie is too “childish”—again assuming Minami only likes mature things.

Akari meets Sachi and Natsumi at the festival with her head held high, ready to take a step forward in figuring (gestures everywhere) all this out. Of course, it’s not that easy, as she’s trying to go back to a place where she’s comfortable play-acting as a wife to Jirou and she’s back to thinking only of Minami in a romantic capacity. In effect, she’s trying to go back to a place that no longer exists.

Even if spending the evening with Minami cleared things up, that opportunity is torn away from her at the last minuite, as his friends arrive Minami-less and contrite; he had to take an extra shift at work due to the festival, and was too nice to turn it down.

Sachi tries to salvage the night by having the boys buy them a bunch of snacks and sweets as penance, but after psyching herself up, Akari is rightfully deflated. To add insult to injury, she spots Minami at the festival after all, in street clothes with Shiori and in what looks like pleasant conversation.

It turns out they’re just taking the shortest route to a point where he’ll go off to work while she’ll head home. They’re not on a date, and from their scene together, there’s still no actual romantic chemistry between them. They’re simply both doing their part as partners in a practical exercise.

Of course, that’s not what it looked liked to Akari, and that’s all that matters. Her friends see her turn pale and assume she’s disappointed in not getting to be with Minami. In reality, she’s that way because she did see him. When the other boys said he wouldn’t be coming, a part of her even felt relieved.

Jirou doesn’t have to spend this night alone at home. He could have called Shiori and taken a step towards that route had he wanted; I doubt she would have refused judging from her look back after she and Minami parted. I wouldn’t really have felt bad for him if his self-imposed loneliness had endured.

However, I do feel bad that, like Akari, he’s simply not sure of anything anymore. If he and Akari are a functional and happy fake couple, he knows one day they won’t be, like when it comes time to swap partners. He worries about what they’ll be after that, and even if they’ll be anything at all.

But when he gets a call from Akari and there are only tears on the other side of the line, if he’s paying attention he’s answering his own question with his reaction: slipping on his coat and running to wherever she is. Luckily for him, that turns out to be right outside their door. As Akari sobs into her hands, she apologizes to Jirou, and by extention, everyone who worked so hard to create an opportunity for her to move forward.

She also worked hard herself, taking extra time to make her hair, nails, and makeup perfect for Minami. And yet, at the end, she just came home. Jirou dries her eyes with his sleeve, then offers a hand up, saying “Welcome home”. Akari collapses into his arms, saying “I’m home”, and has the big, wet, cathartic cry she needs to have. And only Jirou’s arms will do.

Once the tears have passed, the two stand on the balcony as the fireworks start in the distance. When she teases him more and accuses him of being jealous, he doesn’t deny it, which surprises her, but she likes it. Then she takes his hands, puts them on her obi, and asks him to make the bow he wants to make.

When he gets to a step he can’t do, she takes out her phone to find the instructional video. When it slips out of her hands, it falls into his, and she puts her hands over his and draws them close, asking him to simply hold her and say her name, again and again. If he does, she thinks she can “try again”.

Jirou remembers Akari saying how she loses her confidence sometimes, and this is definitely one of those times. In this moment, and while upside-down heart-shaped fireworks start to explode above them, Jirou does as he’s told. She thanks him for not asking what happened, but simply being there for her.

In his mind, Jirou admits he didn’t ask because he didn’t want to know. Just as Akari felt relieved when she heard Minami wouldn’t be coming, Jirou felt relieved when she came home. While he still considers their happiness in this moment to be fleeting, perhaps both he and Akari would be better-served listening to those little pangs of relief and what that means not for Minami, or Shiori, but the two of them.

This episode surpassed the previous racy couch scenes because this felt a lot more overtly romantic. The two have identified those moments of relief and want to understand them better, even as they are still on some level committed to rooting for each other with their other potential partners. Combine the beautiful visuals, lighting, and colors of these scenes with Akari’s friends being The Best and we have the best Fuukoi outing yet.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 05 – Sharing fabric softener

Akari’s crush continues to be supplanted by feelings for the mock husband right in front of her, and throughout the episode she expresses this though lots of teasing and physical contact, starting with a loving wife’s hug before Jirou heads off for school duties. Little does he know that Shiori has arranged to swap duties with her sporty pianist wife Hamano Mei so she can get some quality time with Jirou.

Before the arrangement, Mei is trying to get Shiori to do what needs to be done to get the man she wants—which may yet involve a giant Acme-brand mallet with which to smack him over the head. Shiori says “Jirou doesn’t think of me that way” but Mei knows better; Shiori just needs to make her feelings plain and obvious before Akari snatches him up. Akari’s galfriends only tease her about the prospect of falling for Jirou, but they’re on the right track!

Despite my increasing affinity for Akari and Akari x Jirou, being a sucker for childhood friends I relished the opportunity for Shiori and Jirou to hang out together without interruptions from Akari, Minami, or Sadaharu (who sits this episode out; I don’t mind the guy but appreciated a break from him).

The results are predictable: having class duties together reminds them of when they had them in middle school, and the two settle into that warm, happy nostalgia and familiarity. But when it comes time to leave the safety of the past and try to grasp the future with a solicited kiss, Akari thinks he’s dreaming, while Shiori withdraws at the last moment and must beat the shit out of the erasers in frustration with herself.

Unfortunately, this leaves Jirou with the same impression as the start of the day: that while there are occasional signs here and there, Shiori doesn’t like him “that way”. That leaves him gloomy on the balcony an otherwise dazzlingly starry night, and Akari joins him with mugs of hot milk in a genuinely heartwarming gesture of trying to cheer him up.

That inherent kindness in Akari’s character is at odds with a deep resentment that he’s feeling so down over another girl, which of course reflects how he feels whenever she gets riled up about Minami. Akari decides to press the teasing by insisting he start calling her by her name, and is shocked when he does it immediately, while explaining why he had trouble before.

Akari gets much more than she bargained for here, and has to retreat before Jirou sees her beet-red face and ears. Gathering her patio door curtain around her, she curses these confusing feelings. To this point she’s been in love with the idea of Minami, but that idea is losing ground to the reality of Jirou.

When their teacher announces that practical couples’ scores will be combined and everaged together, Jirou is anxious, as he’s not sure the extent of Akari’s academic prowess. But rather than simply presume she’s a dunce, he asks her about it, and her tone and body language make it clear she’s far from confident about it.

He asks her to cancel her karaoke plans so they can study together, but she says it’s “not so easy” to break said plans because she was invited by other guys, as opposed to her galfriends. To this, Akari says “I’m asking for you too here,” and she relents, but believes he’s only being this “desperate” for Shiori’s sake. Meanwhile, Mei continues to prove that she may just be the most deserving of Shiori’s hand in marriage. If nothing else, she’s trying her best to make Shiori happy and successful in love.

Jirou finds that while Akari picks things up fast, she hates the fundamental idea of studying. Her frustration from the assumption he’s only doing this for him and Shiori leads her to up her teasing and flirting game considerably, cozying up to Jirou and saying he can “do whatever he wants”.

Jirou averts his gaze, and ends up seeing that Akari figured did a challenging math problem correctly. The rest of the study session progresses and their couple score continues to go up. When they’re done, Akari isn’t ready to eat dinner yet, and would rather get Jirou to admit she makes his heart race.

She does this by jumping into his lap, but she grows more frustrated when he tries to ignore her, so she turns around so they’re front-to-front, and tells him he can look at her if he wants. When he still won’t, she grabs him even tighter, and he ends up flipping them over so she’s on her back.

At this point the two are in dangerous territory, and Akari can hear his heart pounding now. It’s here where Jirou starts to let his hormones take over, caressing her cheek. Akari says he can’t once, then twice, but then takes hold of his shoulder to pull him nearer, and closes her eyes to prepare for a kiss …

I knew amorous congress was going to be interrupted by something, be it doorbell, phone, or Sadaharu. This time, it’s Jirou’s nose, which suddenly starts bleeding. Though Jirou thanks his nose profusely for stopping him from doing something he’d regret. Once the bleeding is stemmed by a tissue, the two fold laundry together—the hot-and-heaviness replaced by a picture of domestic bliss.

Akari laughs at Jirou for getting a bloody nose in such a situation, but Jirou in turn asks her what is up with her pestering him so heavily all night. She brings up how she’s frustrated by how desperately he’s trying to prevent Shiori from leaving him behind. He, in turn, tells her he’s not just doing it for him and Shiori, but her and Minami, and further tells her he’s sure she’d reach A-rank with anyone, not just him. He simply hoped that after she’d gained so many points for them, he’d try to contribute by helping with her studies.

Jirou doesn’t know just how happy it makes Akari to hear that, because as far as he’s concerned she doesn’t feel anything serious for him, and her amorous actions have only been to tease him. But Akari is feeling less grateful that he’s doing this for her and Minami when it’s currently the two of them together that makes her heart race for real. She thinks about a future where they switch partners, and their clothes no longer smell like the same fabric softener, and … it’s not necessarily something she wants.

Fuukoi continues to do tremendous character work in the midst of what will always be a silly and contrived premise, and its deft “couch time” animation and Akari’s facial expressions in general continue to impress. There’s still a lot of confusion and awkwardness from all parties, but Shiori is gradually fumbling her way closer to Jirou, while dangerous couch session Akari’s true feelings may be coming into better focus.

Jirou’s self-loathing-fueled obliviousness can’t hold out forever. If it isn’t already, his confidence in Shiori being his one and only will surely start taking the same dents as Akari’s in Minami being hers.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 04 – Shoulder to cry on

During P.E. class when Minami is playing basketball and generally looking like a higher form of life, both Akari and Jirou hear from their friend(s) that he and Shiori are considering staying with one another as a marriage practical couple despite making A-rank.

This news obviously puts a wrench in Akari and Jirou’s plan, leaving both feeling blue. Jirou, knowing how much Akari likes Minami, imagines he’s in a fantasy video game and Minami ends up beating the final boss and winning the hearts of both heroines.

When Jirou and Shiori cross paths, to Jirou’s credit he doesn’t pretend something isn’t bothering him, and Shiori’s known him long enough to know that something is. She says she’s not sure yet whether she and Minami are extending their time together, so Jirou starts to try to tell her he’ll work hard to attain A-rank so that they can be paired together.

Meanwhile, Akari gets cleanup duty for chatting during P.E., and ends up crossing paths with Minami. His sudden presence in the storage room startles her, and she bumps into a shelf, causing a box to start to fall. Minami rushes towards her and starts to fall, leaving them face-to-face.

Akari asks Minami what Jirou asked Shiori, and his answer is yes, he’ll stay by Shiori’s side “forever” if that’s what she wants. Throughout the whole exchange but unbeknownst to Minami, Akari’s heart is beating like a hummingbird, and when she hears what sounds like a rejection from his lips, she starts to cry. Then Minami puts his hand on her chin…

I say Jirou started to tell Shiori he wanted to pair with her, because he isn’t able to get the words out. I would have hoped Shiori would have gotten the gist but she apparently doesn’t when Jirou’s friend Kamo interrupts, having seen Akari and Minami in the storage room together.

But before Kamo can say anything, Minami and Akari exit the school, and Jirou senses a strange atmosphere. Minami and Shiori head home together chatting spiritedly about nothing in particular, while Akari acts awkward and distant towards Jirou and heads off on her own.

He later learns that Akari ditched class, and Kamo tells him he witnessed “kissing going on” between Minami and Akari. He shrugs it off as having nothing to do with him, but it’s clear that he has conflicting feelings about it, what with he and Akari getting along so well of late.

When he comes home, Akari is lying on the couch on her phone, looking morose. He sits down beside her, sarcastically apologizes for not being Minami, and she asks him upfront why he’d bring him up. That’s when, again, to his credit, Jirou doesn’t beat around the bush, but says what he heard: that she was kissing Minami after P.E.

Akari laughs it off, as in reality he was just checking her eye for dust; Kamo saw what he wanted to saw from the angle he had. Akari thinks it’s “hilarious” that Jirou thought a misunderstanding from “straight out of a manga” took place. But Jirou tells her he was ready to root for her, and it’s only fair to expect her to get some kind of return considering how hard she’s been working to get Minami to look her way.

At this, Akari’s mask of sarcasm drops, and bitter tears of frustration start to fall. Jirou is right in theory, but the reality is Minami doesn’t see her that way, and more and more seems to be content to be with Shiori, even beyond the marriage practical situation. When she realizes she’s crying in front of Jirou, she tells him to look away, and he does … kinda. He pulls her into an embrace so that his head is next to hers.

In this way, he’s technically “looking away”, but he’s also there for her, in a moment when she needs someone to be there. She needs to have a good cry without the pressure of having to hold it in to keep up appearances. At this point, Jirou knows who Watanabe Akari is more than anyone else at school, Minami included. And Akari, no doubt having that feeling of being safe and secure in Jirou’s arms, puts her arm around him and cries it out.

After this cathartic moment, Jirou feels self-conscious for overreaching, literally and figuratively, but he did the right thing, as evidenced by Akari’s mood after a cleansing shower. First, she borrows one of his t-shirts, resulting in the deceptively powerful boyfriend shirt scenario. Then she plops right down beside him, leans on him, and has some ice cream as she watches TV.

When he insists he’s no longer overwhelmed by situations like this, she puts her ear to his chest and calls him a liar, as his heart is racing. Of course, since she was worried Minami could hear her beating heart in the storage room, she can relate, which is why she’s so comfortable around Jirou now.

She also hastens to mention that she’s not so “easy” that she’d kiss Minami on a whim, and in any case, she says to him for the first time that her first kiss ever was with Jirou. Jirou sits there unresponsive as she shakes him and urges him to answer for that kiss, and as he does, he admits in his thoughts how happy he feels.

Perhaps for the first time, he’s not thinking about losing Shiori to Minami, or Akari preferring Minami to him. He and and Akari are simply sitting together on their couch, enjoying each other’s company; a cozy, caring family of two. It’s something I could honestly watch all day.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 17 – Sumi Can Communicate

Three days after Ruka spent the night, Kazuya shows some genuine personal growth by taking out the goddamn trashChizuru had the same idea, and their timing is so synced up he almost wallops her when he opens his door. When she brings up Ruka, he assures her nothing happened, but the fact is she did spend the night. Later, when Chizuru is reading lines, she can’t focus thanks to Ruka’s words that morning.

On top of wanting to clear up the misunderstanding, Kazuya learns from the app that Chizuru’s birthday is coming up. He wants to give her a gift that means something, and also to thank her for getting him his phone case—which as we know played a key factor in him declining Ruka’s advances. He knows he can’t ask Ruka or Mami for ideas, so on Chizuru’s birthday he books Sumi, the forgotten Rent-a-Girlfriend.

Sumi, as we know, overheard Kazuya yelling out his feelings to Chizuru in episode 1, but other than that and being at Chizuru’s performance, she’s been a ghost, which is a shame, because every time she gets the spotlight, I find myself wishing Kazuya would just open his eyes and make her his girlfriend. It’s painfully clear (to everyone but him) throughout their date that she likes him!

Not only that, while she’s quiet and shy (though very verbose via text), she’s also perhaps the most thoughtful, kind, and caring of the four girls. Despite having so much less screen time than the others (or maybe because of that) she just constantly gives off Best Girl vibes. And Kazuya notes that she’s really making progress as a rental girlfriend, which she no doubt attributes to his help.

Kazuya procrastinates to the very end of the date to ask Sumi what she thinks would make a good gift for Chizuru. And while Sumi momentarily seems gloomy being asked about another girl, she quickly gets over that and helps the boy who has helped her. In her distinctive, adorable style of communication of gestures, little noises, texts, and the occasional spoken word, she suggests various gift ideas, all of which Kazuya considers but feels none of them are quite the right fit.

Sumi seems to have a Eureka moment and takes Kazuya by the hand, out of the department store where their date took place, and onto the roof of another department store where a “Rent-a-Fighters” power rangers-style show is going on. When Kazuya hears the pink fighter talking he realizes it’s Chizuru, working her ass off at yet another job in order to make her dream to perform in front of her Gran come true.

Watching Chizuru in action and delivering rent-a-kicks and punches inspires Kazuya to a degree, as he decides to stop wallowing and power through his indecision. Before parting ways, Sumi also tells him that sentiment matters most when it comes to gifts; as long as it’s from the heart, any gift from him would make him happy. Sumi isn’t only speaking rhetorically, mind you, but Kazuya doesn’t pick up on the nuance of her text.

Even so, when Kazuya starts walking away, Sumi looks at the photos they took together, her eyes start to get glassy, and before Kazuya knows it Sumi has him by the sleeve. Having not thought this through, Sumi remains silent and blushing profusely for a good long time, but eventually asks Kazuya for his birthday. They part ways again, and Sumi immediately puts the date in her calendar—an opportunity for her to give him something from the heart. Her satisfied smile melted my already melted heart.

Chizuru comes home well after dark, on the phone with her Gran declining an offer of dinner as she’s just too wiped. She takes a shower, gets a text from her idol frenemy Chi, then goes out on her balcony and finds a bag with a “Happy Birthday” note from Kazuya, who slipped it there from his side.

It’s a heartfelt note, explaining why he’s giving her a gift and that it can alleviate fatigue, which is especially timely sentiment considering how tired Chizuru is in that moment. When she opens the box within the box and finds pickled plums, her first reaction is “…Why?” She then notices Kazuya’s postscript insisting nothing happened with Ruka, and she remembers how passionately he spoke to her about not giving up, and pops a plum in her mouth.

Now, if you’ve ever had a pickled plum (I highly recommend them) you know how powerful the flavor is. They’re sweet, salty, and above all oh so sour. It’s a flavor that brings a smile to Chizuru’s face, and it’s a good flavor to represent the complicated nature of her and Kazuya’s relationship. It’s not necessarily comfort food, but slight discomfort food, giving you the kick you need when you need it.

Poor adorable Sumi doesn’t stand a chance, does she? T_T

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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.

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 05 – Win-Win

When Aharen tells Raidou about a Pokemon Go-style mobile game that was launched seven years ago like it’s a new trend, he dusts off his maxed-out Yankee Godzilla character, believing her tiny, harmless-looking Shirorin will be no match against him. He’s eager to score a win against Aharen, but instead he gets stomped. It’s the classic Cactuar Conundrum: tiny and cute doesn’t automatically spell weak.

We’ve seen how strong Aharen is in the crane game department, so when Futaba spends almost all her pocket change in vain trying to win a Yankee Godzilla doll, Aharen proceeds to win nine of them. I don’t think she’s trying to show up a kid; merely show her how it’s done. She even leaves a gimme right near the out spout for Futaba to win with her last 100-yen coin.

The next segment is one of those that crops up often in a 4-panel comic: where one character changes dramatically—in this case Raidou becoming overweight overnight. When it dawns on Aharen it could be her fault for feeding him so much of her massive lunches, she reads up on dieting, hoping to help him.

But when Raidou spots her with the diet book, he assumes she’s trying to diet, something he doesn’t think is necessary, so he decides to lead by example and show her that exercise, not dieting, is the key to success. He loses all the weight he gained, only to learn Aharen never had any intention of dieting…but will surely consider leaner lunches in future!

The re-slimmed Raidou is in trouble; if he fails the midterms he’ll have to take supplementary classes. To avoid this, he proposes that he and Aharen study together, assuming from her serene demeanor that she’s already fully prepared to do well in the exams.

The two try a number of different venues for their studying, but be it the library, a restaurant, or the park, they find themselves distracted by something and can’t study. Ultimately, the classroom turns out to be the ideal spot for studying, with their desks pushed together as usual.

When Aharen, Raidou, and two classmates have after-school cleaning duty, Raidou marvels at how seriously Aharen takes this. She’s so professional in her cleaning, his vivid imagination starts to wonder if she’s also a cleaner, i.e. an assassin. She certainly seems to have a cool head for it…

After the other two kids leave, Aharen tries to move a dusted bookshelf back where it belongs, only to lose her balance and almost have it fall on her. Raidou exhibits catlike reflexes by rushing to Aharen’s rescue. Later, they continue studying, and Raidou thanks her for helping him with studying. Aharen’s response is so quiet even his trained ears can’t hear…

…So she draws closer to him and gathers him into a long, warm, affectionate hug. She expresses her happiness at being able to finally help Raidou, after all this time she’s caused trouble and relied upon him. Raidou’s response is as expected: he’s never once thought she was trouble, and he relies on her too, so he thanks her in return.

It’s easily the swetest and most romantic things have ever gotten between these two. So many anime couples have trouble communicating, but these two are crystal clear in how they feel about one another, and aren’t even embarrassed to walk about arm-in-arm or to share such a long hug.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 06 – It Was Spring When We Met

With the Culture Fest imminent, rehearsals for Romiya and Juliot are well under way, but when Nishikata first lays eyes on Takagi in her princess regalia, he forgets half of his lines as Dumpling A and gets an earful from Director Yukari. Nishikata knows he needs practice, so he arranges for Takagi to meet him…on a rooftop…at sunset.

It’s not until he’s almost to the top of the steps that he realized that in his absent-mindedness he set up the perfect conditions to ask Takagi out, recalling an iconic chapter of 100% Unrequited Love, in which he should know by now Takagi is also well-versed. But such is her knowledge of the workings of his mind, she knows he’s up there to practice their lines…though she’s a little disappointed it’s not for more than that.

The day of the festival arrives, and Nishikata is 5 billion percent certain he can beat Takagi in a contest of who can get out of the haunted “diner” first (can I just say how wonderfully random a haunted diner is?). Takagi gets in and out in 43 seconds, dashing his hopes of her getting freaked out. But for a moment there, he considered going in, so concerned that she’d be too scared. Sure enough, Takagi wants to go through the house with him together, not separately.

Intertwined with Nishikata and Takagi’s slow dance of love are Houjou and Hamaguchi, the latter of which initially disappoints and pisses off the former by telling her not to come to his class café. When she arrives anyway to spite him for being a jerk, she discovers why he didn’t want her there: all the guys in his class had to dress like maids!

But the big draw of the fest is the play, and things get off to a smooth and encouraging start. Even Nishikata knows all of his lines and delivers them with confidence, no doubt a product of his thorough off-camera practicing with Takagi. But when Kimura is “turned into a ham” and leaves the stage, the chestnut atop his scepter pops off. Then Kimura has digestive issues after winning the eating contest.

This leaves Nishikata to fill in for him, but things don’t go as Yukari, Sanae, or Nishikata planned. That’s because during the scene where she’s about to take her life, Takagi trips on the chestnut, and Nishikata darts onto stage to catch her so fast his pig head falls off. The crowd believes this is all intentional, so he runs with it—emphatically declaring his return to human form is a “miracle born from our love.”

Surely the adrenaline has him, but that doesn’t matter. Takagi is loving every moment of this improvisation, as it means she gets to be in the arms of the boy she loves for real, and Nishikata has nowhere to hide. It’s only when an entire gym full of eyes are on them that they’re finally able to say how they truly feel, even if Nishikata would dispute that’s what’s going on.

At the after-festival karaoke party, I was glad to see Nishikata and Takagi sitting next to each other. She praises him for the improv, and he claims not to remember any of what he said on stage. Takagi assures him she remembers “each and every second” of it, and probably will never forget it.

Then Nishikata asks why one of her improvised lines mentioned how they met in spring when Romiya and Juliot met in the fall…to which Takagi says, while looking straight into Nishikata’s eyes, that “it was spring when we met each other.” We, not the characters they played. While Nishikata’s 8-bit brain tries to process these words and their meaning, Takagi is called to the mic to sing another lovely vintage song. A perfect ending to a perfect episode.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 05 – The Ultimate Prize Catch

We begin with a girl who looks like Takagi beside a boy who doesn’t look like Nishikata sitting in the same part of the classroom as our two lovebirds. The girl is upset about having green peppers in her lunch, so the boy eats them. Her friend tells the girl he doesn’t like peppers either, but ate hers, and teases her, because he likes her.

The girl reacts just like Nishikata would, which makes sense, as she’s his daughter. That’s right, our cold open (which is actually quite warm) takes place in the future when Takagi and Nishikata have a kid. We even see Takagi from behind hanging laundry as the scene ends. Note I didn’t say “a possible” future. I said the future—because this is a sure thing. It’s only matter of time!

Back in the present, we see where their daughter gets her dislike of green peppers. Nishikata had to eat some for breakfast, and it’s enough to let out a big sigh. Because Takagi knows him, she immediately identifies what’s eating him (or rather what he doesn’t like eating).

He, in turn, proceeds to ask her what she dislikes as a new challenge, and she even offers him a number of hints…but not too many. Here’s how she  puts it: “You’ll eventually get it right if I just keep giving you hints forever.” The same can be said of their relationship.

Nishikata guessed wrong this time, but he won’t stay wrong forever about what matters, and Takagi won’t have to keep giving him hints forever. Why am I so sure? Well, why else would we get a glimpse of their adorable daughter?

Mina, Yukari and Sanae have a similar discussion about food dislikes, with Mina eating Yukari’s carrots and offering Yukari a gyoza as thanks. While Mina and Yukari bicker, Sanae snatches it up and eats it. Rather than apologize, she walks off, but soon returns with some melon bread, which she offers to exchange for the rest of Mina’s gyoza.

After that intricate transaction, Sanae, Yukari, and Mina take center stage, as they are the writer, director, and costume designer for the play the class will perform for the culture festival. After their presentation of the story, a mélange of the Princess and the Frog and role-reversal Cinderella, they immediately appoint Takagi for the role of the princess. Naturally, there are no objections.

That leaves the crucial role of the Prince. Naturally, all eyes fall upon Nishikata, as the three girls running the play clearly have him in mind for the role, at least initially. He’d have had it, too, had the girls not been distracted from his heartfelt and very real performance that moves Takagi.

They’re distracted by Nishikata’s own friend Kimura, who is still so verklempt from the class not having a karaage café, switching “karaage” for “hime” instantly wins him the role. Nishikata is consigned to the role of “dumpling A”—unfortunate, and yet oddly appropriate.

While both Takagi and Nishikata are disappointed in their ways, it’s hardly the end of the world. In fact, they’ve shaken it off completely by the next segment, when Nishikata leads Takagi to a fishing pond for their next challenge. Nishikata went out of his way to get up early to prepare the bait and tackle, so Takagi honors that effort by giving it her all.

For some time after they both cast, they’re simply sitting by the pond together, taking it easy, something Takagi points out is super-nice. She’s clearly overjoyed that Nishikata has decided to share something he loves with her.

Then she gets a bite, catches a fish, then shows Nishikata she knows how to unhook it, tosses it back, and catches another fish! She may not have fished before, but she is comfortable handling them since she deals with fish often in the kitchen at home.

A frustrated Nishikata suddenly gets a bite—a big one—and it appears to be the prize catch of the pond: a giant koi. It pulls so hard he gets pulled forward, and would have certainly fallen in the drink…if Takagi doesn’t rescue him in the nick of time by grabbing him from behind.

She tightens her grip around his waist, his line snaps, and the two linger in this embrace for a few moments before Takagi withdraws with catlike quickness, once she realizes just how close she and Nishikata are.

She seems to shake it off and even manages to gently tease Nishikata about it as they walk home during the golden hour. But Nishikata’s heart is thumping like a death metal bass drum. When his inner voice asks “what is this?” Takagi, seemingly hearing his thoughts, says “love”. Well, she says koi, which means both love and the kind of fish that got away from him.

As for his “penalty” for losing the fishing challenge, Takagi decides that he’ll help her prepare for her role as the princess. Nishikata doesn’t protest—it’s her win, so it’s her call. So it’s settled: even if the two won’t share the stage, Takagi will ensure her prince—her koi, her dumpling—is closely involved.

Every week Nishikata seems to make another encouraging stride in the right direction: closer to Takagi. Not only will that likely culminate in their ferry date from the OP and promo art, but also in that cute daughter, carrying on her dad’s tradition of taking a while to realize someone likes them.

SAKUGAN – 12 (FIN) – THICKER THAN BLOOD

The Big Twist that starts the SAKUGAN finale is that Memenpu actually is a “Rainbow Child”, a child with an exceptionally advanced brain. This not only explains why she’s a genius, but what the “place in her dream” is all about: it was never a dream, it was a memory. Rainbow Children retain vivid memories even from their infancy. As Rainbow Children were bred to be the guardians of the Labyrinth, they are anathema to Shibito, who want them all dead.

Fortunately, Muro’s boss doesn’t let her kill Memenpu right away, even though it’s debatable what if anything he intends to do with her before killing her. This gives the remaining members of Team Memenpu the time they need to zero in on her location and rescue her. It’s definitely a team effort, with Yuri using a second-hand computer in a store to guide Gagumber and Zackletu, then Zack distracting both Shibito and the Bureau with sheer ballistic chaos.

Gagumber locates Memenpu, but by then she’s been placed in a bell jar, which soon shatters due to the Animus dripping on top of it. Memenpu seems to be immune to its deleterious effects due to her Rainbow-ness. But by the time her pops arrives, Muro’s boss (I don’t believe we got his name) has convinced Memenpu that she has no father. Whether their surroundings were meant to evoke that same father-y scene from Empire, I don’t know.

All’s I know is, this Shibito guy is a huge prick for messing with Memenpu’s head, and for all her advanced intellect, Memenpu betrays just how sensitive and naïve she his, simply accepting the guy’s words about Gagumber not being her father. She even puts herself between the guy and Gagumber, offering up herself in exchange for her not-dad’s safety.

Gagumber, rightfully so, says fuck that, treading through the shallow pool of Animus to reach Memenpu, melting away his boots and burning his feet. He tells her he is, always was, and always will be her father, and she is, always was, and always will be his daughter. Whatever she wants to do and wherever it leads them, he’ll be by her side on her journey. Memenpu, realizing she does have a dad in Gagumber after all, has herself a good cry in his arms.

Seemingly moved by this dramatic and cathartic exchange, the Shibito boss decides to let Memenpu and Gagumber go…for now. Gagumber recharges Big Tony and they take the shortest route back to Dream Colony proper—by drilling through the colony’s retaining wall. There, Gagumber zeroes in on Muro and blasts her through a hole in the floor for making his daughter cry.

There’s a ceremony honoring Team Memenpu hosted by Merooro, but when he produces arrest warrants and the team is surrounded by Bureau cops and bots, Memenpu unleashes a cloud of purple smoke from Tony and the quartet escapes with the Bureau in hot pursuit. Not sure why Merooro held a ceremony just to arrest them, but whatevs.

Back on the Labyrinth “road”, Memenpu leads her team on their original mission: to find the place in her dreams, come what may. It’s what she truly wants to do, and that’s more than enough for Gagumber to accompany her, and by extension Zack and Yuri. It’s been fun watching this found family iron out their warts and beat the bad guys…fun enough that I’ll likely give the expected second season a watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 09 – New York, Old Problems

While it’s a shame they skipped Baltimore and Philadelphia, there’s definitely a sense of sudden, profound accomplishment when we see Anna’s trusty blue 70s sedan rumble down Times Square. They’ve made it! Now Destiny can get tuned and stop sapping Takt’s life and everything’s going to be okay!

The sense of having arrived at one’s destination after a long road trip (with several exciting detours) is reinforced by the fact that Anna and Cosette’s elder sister Lotte and their parents live in NYC, which means reuniting with them feels like returning home. Anna, having finally gotten Destiny and Takt to the Symphonica, deserves a rest.

Unfortunately there’s no rest for the deserving, as Lotte’s tests on Takt and Destiny bear no promising fruit. Their contract between Conductor and Musicart, while more symbiotic than parasitic, will nonetheless soon result in both dying, confirming that Takt’s corroded arm is not only permanent, but cumulative.

Lotte tells the pair that their only hope is…to not fight. If they settle down, stop hunting D2s and live normal lives, they’ll live far longer. After a full-on New York Day of food, drink, shopping, sightseeing, and aquarium-ing, Takt and Destiny get a pretty decent taste of what that life might be like. The problem is, like everyone else in the city, their lives are constantly dependent on the Symphonica’s protection.

Neither Takt nor Destiny refuse the possibility of settling down out of hand, rather its just that Destiny still can’t imagine a life without battle, which is not only her duty, but purpose. Not to mention neither of them probably like the prospect of being “intentionally useless” by letting others fight and die for their sake. They still have the power to fight, and so they’ll keep hoping that the fighting will end and they can enjoy live music in the park together.

Except…they suddenly have to leave NYC immediately and takt Anna and Cosette’s family with them, according to Lenny sounding as grim as we’ve ever heard him. When Takt assures him he’s not an “outsider”, Lenny agrees to tell Takt the truth about everything: even the infamous incident ten years ago in Boston.

It all starts with Destiny hearing another tuning fork, which means Felix was far from the only Symphonica member using the D2 to fuel his own ambitions. From that musical stab as the camera locked on Heaven’s eyes, the trouble could go all the way to the top. Do Takt and Destiny retreat with their family as Lenny urges, or remain New York, where everything is happening, to see where the cards fall?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Takt Op. Destiny – 08 – Call Her By Her Name

Despite being worn down by a combination of sleep deprivation and Destiny, Takt makes the first move against Felix, and would have socked him in the face with a speed and force Felix didn’t expect, were it not for his trusty sadistic bodyguard, Hell, who breaks his ribs with a kick. Destiny retreats with Takt in her arms, and Hell lets them go, because killing them now won’t be as fun as waiting until they’ve recovered.

When Takt comes to (after she administers water to him with a kiss), Destiny has returned to Normal Girl Mode and made a fire, but her bandage wrapping leaves much to be desired. She acknowledges this, and her shortcomings outside of battle in general. When Takt asks why she didn’t continue fighting without him, she says when she saw him crumpled on the ground, her body moved on its own: to him, and away from the fighting.

Takt tells Destiny more about Cosette, and how now that she’s gone, there’s no one left around to hear his music he might compose. Of course, he’s wrong; not only are Anna and Destiny there, but a whole lot of people who want and need to hear his music so it can warm their hearts like the fire in the cave.

The next morning, Destiny meets Felix and Hell back in the woods with two axes and tries her best to fight. Alas, without her Musicart Mode she’s no match for Hell, who merely toys with her. Just when she’s about to be choked out, Takt arrives, and the two get into a lover’s quarrel, completely ignoring Felix. Lenny and Titan arrive to keep Felix and Hell busy while the two talk things out.

Takt asks Destiny—by name, for the first time—if she also needs to hear his song like all those other people out there. Destiny says she doesn’t simply need to; she wants to hear it. With Felix and Hell standing in the way of that, Takt tells Desinty to use as much of his life as she needs to dispatch them. And what do you know, Destiny actually takes it to Hell, overpowering her giant attack with one of her own and  burning her arm.

Hell is ready to go another round, but the fight is stopped by the ethereally calm and gentle voice of Heaven, Grand Maestro Sagan’s Musicart. Speaking for Sagan, Heaven relieves Felix of his position and fires him from the Symphonia with immediate effect.

Just like that, Hell turns her back on her former Maestro and snaps his baton, and departs with Heaven. There’s an ominous to Heaven’s presence (aided by the music that plays when she arrives) and to the fact that Felix was officially relieved for disobeying orders…not for trying to kill Takt and Destiny.

Still, it’s probably not the last we’ll see of him, and I was a little miffed Takt wasn’t able to land a punch to his smug, villainous face. But in the end I was just glad Takt and Destiny made it out of the predicament alive, and doubly glad to see them reunite with a ridiculously relieved Anna. Like Takt, she calls Destiny by her name for the first time. She lost a little sister, but now realized she gained another.

Watching Destiny evolve before our eyes with an essentially full suite of emotions, and watching Takt and Anna shed their denial and accept Destiny for Destiny, was as fun as watching Destiny, Takt, and Titan kick ass. After all this excitement, could another comparatively relaxing road trip episode be in the offing?

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 18 – The Most Important Thing

After a brief scene showing a seasick Rudy and Eris (and a very unseasick Ruijerd) headed to the Central Continent by ship, the rest of the episode belongs to Roxy, who is always either a step ahead or behind her apprentice. We learn she was once in a party with Bojack…er, Nokopara, who has cleaned up his ways since getting burned by Rudy two years ago.

Nokopara, who is a bit older than Roxy, tells her to go visit her damn family already, citing his own family he built since they last met as evidence that family is the most important thing. He would do anything for his wife and three kids, and suspects Roxy’s parents would do the same for her. I must say I appreciate the softening of the initially assholeish horseman.

When Roxy arrives at her home village, she’s immediately given a painful reminder of the main reason she left: in this village, she is “deaf”, i.e. unable to hear the telepathic communication of the other villagers. When they try to greet her, she’s just hit with a static-y feedback accompanied by pops of light—which to the show’s credit is almost as unpleasant for us as it is for Roxy.

Even when she makes a connection with three kids by healing one of them, when they try to thank her telepathically and she doesn’t respond, then a parent shows up and tries to do the same, everything goes pear-shaped. This is a place where Roxy has always felt oppressed by her difference, and the reluctance of anyone there to accommodate it.

It’s a bad start to her return, made worse by a stilted reunion with her parents. Clearly still off from her previous interactions before arriving at her old home, Roxy is noncommittal about how long she’ll stay. When her parents tell her she can stay as long as she likes, then immediately settle into their usual telepathic banter, they unintentionally exclude her out of force of habit.

At this point Roxy has had about enough, and as much as I want her to reconnect with her folks, whom we know to be so loving and kind and caring of her from when Rudy visited, I can’t blame her for wanting to go. She feels like an interloper, an outsider, and always has.

But then her mother starts to cry, after Roxy agrees to visit once in the next fifty years. Even that extremely loose promise is enough to bring tears to her mother’s eyes. Then Roxy catches in the corner of her eye the doll her mother made for her, which she’d clutch while she taught her to read and write, all the while speaking verbally.

One day, lil’ Roxy encountered some kids who she would have been able to befriend, if only she could hear what they were saying telepathically. When they don’t answer her, she understandably feels like she did something wrong, that she was somehow wrong herself, and didn’t belong. That’s why she ran away: so she wouldn’t cause problems for her parents.

But remembering what Nokopara said about parents (good ones anyway) doing anything for their children, and seeing her mother weeping and her doll on the shelf, Roxy can’t help but start crying herself. Oh, she tries to stave off the tears, but that just makes them fall in a great sobbing torrent all at once, in a wonderfully beautiful moment where the camera simply rests on her contorting face.

Roxy gathers her mother into a hug, they both apologize, her dad, getting misty-eyed himself, joins that hug. You have to hand it to Mushoku Tensei, because two straight episodes with these kinds of tearful, cathartic embraces might’ve come off as repetitive and even emotionally manipulative. Instead, I felt right there in that hug, where Roxy suddenly realized this place is still her home, because the people she loves and who love her, are there.

She also learns that Rudy had visited with Eris and a Superd, which enables her to finally connect the dots: Rudy’s the one who revived the Dead End name, and if a Superd is in his party, he must be doing just fine. Roxy rejoins her own party and continues the search for the missing, buoyued by the strides she made with her family and relieved that her apprentice is fine, wherever he is.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – 17 – Having It Easy

Lest last week’s episode make us too hard on Paul, we flash back to the same disaster that sent Rudy and Eris to the Demon Continent. Paul suddenly finds himself a stranger in a strange land, with only Norn with him. With Zenith, Lilia, and Aisha nowhere to be found, all Paul could do is keep Norn safe and try to find the rest of his family. Just as Rudy did everything he possibly could to keep Eris safe, Paul did the same with Norn.

Back in the present, Paul once more escapes into drink, but he just so happens to know Geese, who tells him that actually, if he stops and thinks about it (preferably while sober), he was pretty harsh on his eleven-year-old son. Yes, Rudy was an amazing and special prodigy, but that doesn’t change the fact that he is also a little kid who went through a lot and still managed to come out of it with himself intact.

Geese’s man-to-man chat with Paul really provides a key assist to Rudy, as Paul dries himself out and visits Rudy once more at the tavern. Eris is ready to attack him, but Ruijerd stops her. As the two leave to allow Paul to be alone with his son, Ruijerd reminds Paul that the grievances he has with Rudy are only important because Rudy is still alive. As in, Paul still has much to be thankful for.

Last week, both Paul and Rudy learned a lot about themselves and each other. Rudy learned that yes, he actually was kind of treating this like a game this whole time, because he didn’t know the extent of the disaster that befell Fittoa (Paul warns him there’s basically nothing left of their home). When the bartender tells Rudy to look his father in the face, he sees a face he hadn’t seen since the last friend who hung out with him when he was a shut-in in his previous life.

When that friend was doing his best to help Rudy feel like what he was and what he was doing wasn’t bad or wrong, Rudy at the time took it as nothing but patronization and pity. He lashed out at his friend, who never returned to his place. But Paul did come back, to apologize for being too harsh with his son. So Rudy, in turn, suggests they simply forget the previous day happened and start over with a simple father-son hug.

Back at the inn, and with Paul present, Rudy has another Dead End strategy meeting with Eris and Ruijerd. He tells Eris that the home they knew doesn’t exist anymore, and to his surprise, Eris had long ago already accepted that possibility. Thus their mission is no longer to return home, but to find the rest of his family.

Now his party will be active in the same search Paul’s party and Roxy’s party have been involved in since the disaster. That means there’s a good chance one of those groups will find someone. After all, Paul and Rudy found each other. And while it was initially a tough reunion, once both of them committed to being grown-ups they were able to be honest with each other.

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