Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House – 01 (First Impressions) – Always Giving Their All

Nozuki Kiyo and her best friend Herai Sumire moved to the Kagai district of Kyoto from Aomuri at sixteen. Sumire came to become a maiko (an apprentice geiko, the Kyoto version of geisha), while Kiyo found her place in the kitchen of the house where all the maiko live like a family. We meet Kiyo as she’s carrying a sherpa’s load of groceries for the next round of meals.

We meet Sumire when she sticks her head into the kitchen to say hi in between her extremely rigorous study and practice. After meeting with her sensei, she learns she’s been given permission to debut, making it official: she’s going to be a maiko. Kiyo hugs her and congratulates her from the bottom of her heart, and Sumire has to excuse herself to wash away her tears of joy. It’s a lovely moment between good friends on very different paths, who happen to be able to still live together.

While serving the sensei and Maiko House’s mother, Kiyo learns that Sumire is extremely special, and may have what it takes to become a “once-in-a-century maiko.” The sensei compares Kiyo’s cooking and baking skills unfavorably to her “truly impressive” friend, but Kiyo isn’t insulted or hurt…she’s in full agreement that Sumire is indeed amazing.

In fact, it’s precisely because Sumire is so amazing and always gives her all, Kiyo is able to work hard to provide the Maiko house with nourishing, savory, energy packed meals to sustain their packed schedules. Kiyo even goes a little overboard for lunch one day, serving over a half-dozen dishes that could each be supper by themselves.

While many of the maiko tap out before they can finish their portions, Sumire eats everything put in front of her, which is what Kiyo wants to see. If Sumire is going to give her all in becoming a maiko, Kiyo is going to give her all keeping her fed.

Then we meet a recently retired otokoshi, one of only a handful of men in the Kagai district who assist maiko and geiko with putting on their kimono, as well as doing heavy lifting and other manual labor the women either can’t or shouldn’t do (hernias are a bitch). In Kiyo’s case, she needs him to move the fridge so she can pull out the cookbooks that fell behind it.

Kiyo thanks the otokoshi by serving him coffee and a fresh-baked scone…a pretty good deal! Then Kiyo moves on to a matter of increasing concern for both her and the house mother: Sumire is working so hard, she’s skipping meals with regularity, and starting to lose weight.

Rather than, say, lasso Sumire and force-feed her, Kiyo plans to prepare some smaller dishes packed with energy so Sumire can quickly get the nutrients she needs to keep going. Her secret weapon is a local dish from their home prefecture of Aomuri: fried squid mince. A familiar taste of home is just what her hungry friend needs.

Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House is very straightforward, but with the subject matter it’s presenting it doesn’t have to be anything more than that. It’s also lovely to look at and full of lush blend of traditional and modern music. Hanazawa Kana and MAO are captivating as the voices of Kiyo and Sumire, and their little “Dish of the Day” omake bits provide fun punctuation between the three segments. It’s pure comfort food and a warm, soft blanket rolled into one, and I loved it!

Fruits Basket – 26 (S2 01) – The Hideous One

First of all, let me say how good it feels to have Fruits Basket back in my life. It’s truly a salve for the heart! Those who haven’t watched the first season probably wouldn’t agree. It should go without saying: make sure you watch those 25 episodes before getting anywhere near this episode. That said, holy crap, what a return to greatness!

A gorgeous new OP, followed by an episode centered squarely on … Minagawa Motoko! In which she recognizes Tooru’s positive effect on Yuki. And stops living in a world of fantasy. And acknowledges her flaws. And commits to pursuing Yuki the right way. In other words, Motoko changes…and in doing so becomes yet another character I love and can’t wait to see again. And lest we forget, she’s brilliantly voiced by MAO!

Tooru shows up to put an iron uncomfortably close to the faces of Kyou and Yuki, but otherwise this is basically The Minagawa Motoko Show from start to finish (with a sprinkling of Yuki). It’s a ballsy move to make Tooru’s arrogant, one-dimensional, self-deluded love “rival” the protagonist-of-the-week, especially as the first episode back.

But Fruits Basket has already demonstrated time and again that none of its cast is really shallow; it’s just a matter of how much we know them, and this was the time to really hunker down and get to know Motoko, beyond the scheming president of Prince Yuki—someone nearly bowled over by Arisa’s eager new delinquent minions (a great potential pairing for a future episode, by the way).

Motoko puts her war with Tooru aside to deal with a more pressing matter: the identity of the new StuCo board members. Specifically, she wants to make sure none of them are hussies that will steal her man (who, let it be said, has already been all but stolen by Tooru!) But former StuCo prez Takei can sense Motoko’s intent and isn’t spilling the beans.

Meanwhile, it’s new StuCo prez Yuki who meets the new board members in question, in a very bizarrely staged scene. When he enters, he hears a girl seemingly weeping in the dark in a giant mess of files. Yet after recoiling from his touch, she adopts a stoic demeanor and goes about cleaning up. This is the new StuCo treasurer, Kuragi Machi.

Then he meets the new veep, the brash and grigarious Manabe Kakeru, who had been napping in the next room and reminds Yuki of his repellent brother Ayamu. He has a particularly weird exchange with Manabe later, leading him to wonder if there’s something Zodiac-y or Zodiac-adjacent about these new members…or if they’re just a bit eccentric.

That night, we end up in Motoko’s very rich-girly room as she waxes poetic about Yuki and curses those who would stand between her and him, only to be rudely interrupted by her no-nonsense mom in curls. Turns out Motoko puts on Kongou Mitsuko rich girl airs at school, but is actually from a working-class family who lives above their shop. I’m already more fascinated with her!

The next day, Motoko decides to bypass Takei entirely, enlisting the aid of third-year and fellow Prince Yuki member Aida Rika, to pick the lock of the StuCo office. Turns out the office unlocked, and Motoko and Rika are in luck: the only person in there is their beloved Yuki. Quietly cheered on by Rika, Motoko gets off to a rough start by asking Yuki…about what he ate for breakfast.

But because Yuki is such a nice guy, he dutifully tells her what he ate, and she discovers they like the same kind of natto. Then, unbidden, Yuki asks Motoko if she normally speaks so formally, commenting that it’s “kind of cute.” Motoko would normally be happy beyond words by being called cute by Yuki, but when she sees his warm easy smile that accompanies the words of praise, she sees a Yuki she doesn’t recognize.

The adoring distance she’s kept from Yuki means the Yuki she saw was rarely the Yuki he really was underneath a much cooler, at times forced smile. She realizes how far that distance remains when Yuki could change so much without her knowing, and with the help of someone else … someone not her by his side. It’s suddenly too much to bear, so she runs off.

As she flips on a faucet to wash her suddenly tear-filled face, Motoko professes her hatred of all women who “dare get near Yuki”, but hates none of them more than herself, the “hideous one” who thinks those kinds of thoughts as she’s reflected in her mirror. It’s the kind of honest self-reflection I was hoping from Motoko after her fateful visit to the Hanajima residence (a veritable bastion of Keeping It Realness).

Motoko shouldn’t just thank Tooru’s influence for giving her a Yuki who can smile, but one who didn’t let things sit where they were. He goes after her to make sure she’s alright, and in doing so, confides in her that despite looking so “unruffled”, he’s barely keeping his cool. Motoko can relate, as she just lost her cool back in the office!

Heartened by Yuki’s smile, Motoko vows not to give up the fight. He may have changed, and Tooru may have changed him, but she still adores him and wants him to be hers. Now that she’s actually exchanged more than just polite pleasantries, but shared a moment of mutual vulnerability, that affection has gained intensity and legitimacy.

As I sat staggered at how well they fleshed out Motoko and made her someone I half want to root for in just an episode, Yuki returns home and washes dishes with Tooru, and mentions the almost Zodiac-like strangeness of his new council-mates. He also confesses that he was happy when Manabe said he was “more interesting than [he] thought.”

Earlier, Kyou called Yuki lame, and privately, Yuki acknowledges that yeah, he is lame. It’s why Kyou’s barb is so painful; he believes it. But Tooru assures him that even if tough times are coming, either in the StuCo (maybe) or the Souma family (most assuredly) there will be fun times to cherish as well. Life is a never-ending string of getting hurt and healed by words and actions big and small.

After Tooru delivers those wise-beyond-her-years words, the episode closes perfectly on its heroine Minagawa Motoko, positively angelic in her frilly nightgown and glorious pink palace above a workaday store, gazing at the stars in quiet, hopeful, healing prayer.