Osamake – 02 – The Cost of Assumptions

Maru Sueharu was indeed a famous and talented child actor, while his dad was a stuntman and his mother an “unsuccessful” actress. Abe Mitsuru asks why Sueharu suddenly quit acting six years ago, but I doubt the answer matters much to him, as once Mitsuru found out Sueharu liked Shirokusa, he decided to date her for the express purpose of humiliating him and proving that he “won”. I take it back; this guy’s a dick!

Mitsuru also makes clear his intentions to officially confess to Shirokusa at the confession festival, in hopes of squashing Suehar’s first love for good. Why he cares so much about Sueharu is anyone’s guess, but the bottom line is that if Sueharu will need to make a big splash at the festival to foil his scheme.

Despite Kuroha loudly proclaiming she and Sueharu are now dating, Shirokusa still agrees to write a script for a play Sueharu will perform for the festival—provided he’s the star and she gets properly compensated. She then contributes to his persona non grata status with the boys by exchanging NINE info with him.

Kuroha, who we learn is one of four beautiful Shida sisters who live next door to Sueharu, stops by to check on him. Once again the two exhibit a warm, lovely lived in chemistry. While she’s organizing his books, a photo slips out of one of them: a photo of him as a kid with someone who is clearly Shirokusa.

Sueharu, who calls Shirokusa Kachi, doesn’t make the connection to his old friend “Shiro”, because he is very dumb and possibly face-blind. Right on cue, Shirokusa then calls Sueharu up, and they have a playful little chat to arrange a place and time to meet and talk about the play. After the call, Kuroha knows it was Shirokusa on the line, and is worried about Sueharu jumping back into acting after so long.

She also makes clear that even if it doesn’t go well it doesn’t matter, because he has other qualities besides acting ability, and she reiterates that she likes him. When she teases his red face, he raises a mirror to show her hers, then tries to go further by taking her by the chin and teasing a kiss, only to chicken out when she was ready to go.

I realize I said this last week, but it sure would be a lot easier if he got over Shirokusa and dated Kuroha for real! I know, I know, love polygon romcoms need these kinds of bumps to provide drama. Speaking of drama, on the day Sueharu practices on stage with Tetsuhiko, he suddenly suffers what I’d describe as a panic attack and passes out.

He wakes up in the nurse’s office, with Shirokusa by his side, ready to begin their meeting when he’s ready. She admits she decided to write the script for him because she’s supporting him getting back into acting. As far as payment goes, she wants neither cash nor groveling, but an explanation for what happened to his acting career. Sueharu proceeds to tell a sad tale of his mother getting the role of his mother in the second season of Child Star, the show that made him famous.

But his mom put so much into her role, she ended up hitting her head while filming a scene where her character was to be hit by a car. The show was going to be cancelled, but Sueharu insisted the show go on. But after that second season it went on indefinite hiatus, along with his career. He couldn’t tell anyone at the time what happened due to a gag order.

Sueharu’s story moves Shirokusa to tears, and not just because it’s a sad story, but because it throws off her whole revenge plot against him—which predates his by six years! As expected, the “Shiro” Sueharu and Kuroha saw in the photo was her. She was spellbound by his performances on TV, and had him invited to her house to hang out. I particularly love how in this flashback her younger self looked his way with her head sideways on the desk, just like she did in the present when he asked her to write him a script.

Back then, she asks if she could write something for him to act in, and he was enthusiastic about it. He thus became her muse, as she began to write prolifically. But when he stopped coming by without explanation and his show ended, Shirokusa took it as a personal affront. She dedicated to becoming stronger, prettier, and famous to get back at him for leaving her.

As she walks home after their meeting, Shirokusa is in tears, because he’d gone from her first love to her hating him, and now she’s back to loving him, especially knowing what happened wasn’t her fault, or anyone’s. My questions are, is she in cahoots with Mitsuru or are they using each other to make Sueharu envious, and will this revelation lead to her cancelling her vendetta?

Whatever path she takes, Sueharu and Kuroha are proceeding with the play in which he upstages Mitsuru and confesses to Shirokusa. But Kuroha doesn’t trust Shirokusa and worries that this is a trap by her and Mitsuru to kick him as low as he can go just when he’s riding high. Nevertheless, Sueharu wants to give it a try.

While Kuroha is worried about him, as a childhood friend would, she’s also supportive, telling him that even after all this time his natural talent is still there, and he’s a better actor than he gives himself credit for. As long as he’s acting for someone, she knows he’ll do great. Ideally, that someone is her!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Osamake – 01 (First Impressions) – The Romcom Where The Childhood Friend Won’t Lose!

When Maru Sueharu (melodic name, that) encounters his classmate and the school’s vaunted idol, Kachi Shirokusa, he’s honored she knows his name, and says her first novel moved his heart. His praise moves her to tears as she thanks him, showing a side no one at school had ever seen, and that was that: Sueharu “fell victim to love’s poison”, as for him love isn’t something you fall into, but rather eats away at you.

It’s eleven days until the cultural festival, on the second day of which is the “confession festival”. While on friendly speaking terms with Kachi, Sueharu made no further progress with courting her. His mate Tetsuhiko isn’t surprised. She’s smart, athletic, an award-winning novelist and model—way out of the league of Sueharu…who just seems to be…some guy?

Sueharu watches Kachi (imperiously voiced by Sakura Ayane) tearing her own notes rather than letting a girl copy them. Then he catches Kachi in the library, either writing fresh notes or re-writing the ones she tore, all with tears in her eyes. If ever there was an chance to approach her, it’s here, but Sueharu chickens out. Tetsuhiko suggests Sueharu ask his childhood friend Shida Kuroha out instead of tilting at windmills.

She’s out of his league to, but due to their osananajimi status, she might actually say yes. Sueharu admits that Kuroha is cute, all the guys like her, she’s good at communicating, and he respects her a lot. Just then, Kuroha announces her presence, bending her diminutive frame to face him while he sits on the floor. Sueharu gets all shy, something Kuroha mentions is something she likes about him.

As other boys in class curse Sueharu and plan his death with startling detail for daring to have an “older loli” as a childhood friend, Kuroha makes no effort to lower her voice when she asks if Sueharu regrets rejecting her when she asked him out. Even Kachi and her friend Maiko take notice.

Sueharu prostrates himself and admits that yes, he’s grateful to have Kuroha. Then Maiko accidentally blurts out that Kachi is dating actor Abe Mitsuru, himself the son of a famous actor. Sueharu’s heart drops out of his chest, and he flees the classroom in a cloud of despair.

Naturally, because they’ve known each other since they were little Kuroha knows just where to find him sulking: on the riverbank. She repeats that her asking him out was only because “she lost a game” but he knows that while she acts like an older sister, she likes to be doted on. Because he’s spot-on about that, she cradles his head in her chest as a reward.

Kuroha reiterates her affection for Sueharu, for being nice to her even when he’s hurting himself. She also says that despite the fact he rejected her, her feelings are still there, which is why she can relate to how he’s feeling having been passively rejected by Kachi.

It was in this scene where Kuroha and Sueharu won me over. For one thing, both the characters and their seiyuu Minase Inori and Matsuoka Yoshitsugu have properly gorgeous chemistry that oozes from the screen. They feel so comfortable and sweet together, it’s a crying shame they don’t just date each other…but then there wouldn’t be a show, would there?!

Instead of taking the easy route of going out for real, Kuroha offers to help Sueharu get revenge on Kachi, for stringing him along out of a desire to “keep him around” despite having a boyfriend; the proverbial cake and eating it. It would also be revenge for Kuroha, who is insulted by Kachi’s implied rejection of her friend. As far as she’s concerned it’s Sueharu who’s out of Kachi’s league.

It’s here where Sueharu mentions in VO that Kuroha’s name is based on “clover”, which is not just a symbol of luck, but promises, thinking of her, and…revenge. And at their first meeting to plan this revenge, Kuroha makes no secret of her preferred method: Sueharu and her pretending to be boyfriend and girlfriend, thus depriving Kachi of the buddy she friendzoned.

Before Sueharu fully agrees to this method, Kuroha immediately settles into the role, which she made quite clear would be “all profit” to her, as she’d get to go out with the guy she loves. She gets close to Sueharu, runs her hand down his arm and weaves her fingers into his, whispers in his ear, and eventually gets him on his back, hoping to commence their “fake” dating plan with a real kiss.

Just before their lips touch, Sueharu thinks of Kachi crying on the bridge and wigs out, leaving an upset and unsatisfied Kuroha alone. After trying and failing to get dirt on Abe Mitsuru—he’s perfect!—he flees to the roof to basically monologue in a very dramatic, theatrical way—one instance of many in the episode that allow Matsuoka Yoshitsugu to have some fun with his performance.

Turns out it’s no accident that Sueharu is often performative like this, as we learn when Abe Mitsuru appears on the roof, having heard Sueharu was asking around about him. When Sueharu expresses surprise a famous guy like Abe knows him, Abe says he doesn’t so much know him, but remember him…as the “former genius child actor” Maru Sueharu! This is the first sign that Abe isn’t going to be just some faceless baddie gumming up the gears of Sueharu and Kachi’s romance. Hell, it’s possible Sueharu inspired Mitsuru to follow his dad and become the actor he is!

As it is, Osamake takes the tried-and-true formula of a two-girl, two-boy love polygon, but flips the script of the classic childhood friend character, so often portrayed as meek, supportive, and ultimately content with an unrequited love.

Kuroha may be supportive, but she’s neither meek nor content. Confident and assertive, she knows exactly what she wants and isn’t going to give up trying to get it. And hopefully, for once, the childhood friend won’t lose, as the title suggests (it could be lying). Sueharu came off a bit dull at first, but through his interactions with Kuroha we see what she sees in him. I just hope he doesn’t have amnesia about child acting…that would be one romcom cliché too many!

Wonder Egg Priority – 04 – Sunny Side Up

WEP made no secret of there being four main girls, so with its fourth episode it introduces the fourth girl: Sawaki Momoe. Still, Miwa, the egg girl she’s helping, calls her “Momotarou” because she’s so tall and manly. Miwa was driven to suicide by her dad’s boss who molested her, then fired her dad when she accused him.

Meanwhile, Ai is running, loath to fight the Wonder Killer alone, but it turns out she doesn’t have to: Yu-Yu’s fans lend her penlights, which turn into new weapons with which she slashes the Killer’s many tentacles. It’s a case where the Egg Girls won’t just stand passively by and wait to be rescued, but actively aiding their heroine.

Miwa looks poised to stand passively, but when Momoe starts having some trouble, she uses herself as bait to give her heroine an opening. She also taks the opportunity to tell the pervert to touch his wife whom he loves—not her. Back with AI, the Yu-Yu fangirls help their own case further when they stop the Wonder Killer in her tracks with a video of their shared idol.

They buy enough time for Ai to hang in there until Rika returns—as has been established, they’re immortal, so her petrification eventually wore off—and de-tentacles the Killer, allowing Ai to deliver the coup-de-grace, completing the rescue of the fangirls, who also declare themselves fans of the two-girl unit that is Ai and Rika before vanishing.

Momoe also says goodbye to Miwa, who insists on being held in the arms of the person she fell in love with in their short time together. Momoe is left alone on the train platform, no doubt wishing at some point one of the egg girls she rescues won’t see her as a man and fall in love with her.

At the hospital, Neiru makes a fast recovery to the shock of her healthcare providers, demonstrating she’s ready to be discharged by performing a brief but perfect floor exercise in the rehab room. As Ai confirms with her firmer abs, their exertions in eggland don’t just bring real injuries into the real world, but also increases their muscle tone, stamina, and general physical toughness.

Ai learns that Neiru doesn’t go to school either, but for a very different reason. After riding in her sumptuous Mercedes Maybach Pullman and heading up to the top floor of a snazzy office building, Ai learns that Neiru’s dad doesn’t work there, she works there…as president.

Momoe is urged by the two sackheads to make friends and look for the sunflower—a clear reference to Ai’s shirt. But as Ai and Neiru amiably chat, they walk right past Momoe without noticing her.

When Momoe tells her next Wonder Killer target that she’s actually a girl, the egg girl who falls in love with her doesn’t care; she loves her anyway, and leans in for a kiss before vanishing just like the others. Momoe visits the statue of Haruka, the girl she’s trying to save, who—you guessed it—also loved her.

Momoe returns to the egg gachapon, where Neiru and Rika are waiting for Ai. Rika immediately misgenders Momoe as a handsome, strapping young lad, but protests to the sackheads that boys shouldn’t be allowed. The sackheads tell Rika not to get hung up on gender, since they made this place for anyone who wants to bring children who succumbed to the “temptation of death”—i.e. suicide—back to life.

As the sackheads presumed, it would take a sunflower for Momoe to make friends among her fellow egg girl heroines. She stares into her reflection, desperate to be seen for what she is rather than have others project what they want her to be, and weeps. Ai approaches and asks if she’s okay, and Momoe asks her “What do I look like right now?” Ai gives precisely the answer Momoe needs: “Like a crying girl…who looks like a model.”

Ai, whose mom once ran a fashion magazine, has seen female models of all shapes and sizes. She’s seen femininity in all its forms, not just the “classical” or “conventional” ones (though I admit those are both super-loaded adjectives). She goes on to compliment the contours of Momoe’s neck, as Momoe recognizes Ai is the sunflower she sought.

With the ice broken, Neiru and Rika join the conversation about necks and Adam’s apples, with Rika half-jokingly asking for an assessment of her neck, which is likened to a “puppy’s”, leading all four to eventually join in the laughter. We’ve seen what Ai and Rika were able to do working together. I imagine that the four of them fighting as one would be more effective still!

Wonder Egg Priority – 03 – Soft-Boiled

The bright colors and dark themes continue to intermesh as the third girl of the series is introduced. Kawai Rika’s ash-blonde hair is set off by a hot pink highlight and a magenta-and-purple jacket. Like Ai, she has a statue of someone she’s trying to save, though she makes a point to tell her she’s fat and ugly and her palm sweaty. When Ai meets her at the egg gachapon, Rika is on the ground, holding her ribs, but soon recovers miraculously.

After commenting on Ai’s heterochromia, and promptly asks for some spare change. Aka and Ura-Aka, always seated around a game of go, aren’t concerned with the injuries the girls endure; it’s part of the job. Ai’s excitement to meet a new egg heroine quickly shifts to bemusement, as her interaction with Rika feels like a “one-girl handshake event”, as Ai puts it to Neiru, with whom she’s now texting on the regular.

Between barging in on Ai’s visit with Neiru, always making sure people know her name is Kawai because she’s so darn cute, calling the doctor hot, labeling Neiru a tsundere, and most distressingly eating up all the kiwi, Rika creates the impression of a superficial, shameless, self-involved brat. Nevertheless, she keeps following Ai around, inviting herself over to her house (causing Ai’s counselor Sawaki—whom Rika also calls hot—to leave) and unilaterally deciding to sleep over.

When Ai tells her about why she’s currently a shut-in, Rika immediately jumps to the conclusion Ai is seeking attention from the hot Sawaki. Then Ai tells her about Koito, then asks about the person Rika is trying to save. Rika makes clear the “ugly fatty” Chiemi isn’t her friend, but her fan, and also refers to her as a patron and a wallet. Ai is more or less appalled.

As Rika bathes we see scars on her arm from cutting, which she’s promised to stop. It was clear she was using a veneer of carefree bravado to hide deeper issues, but the scars confirm it without anyone saying a word. She says everyone’s the same in that when you “scratch the surface” they’re all “slimy”—something you could also say of an egg. Neiru texts Ai to be careful with Rika, warning that “junior idol could mean bedroom stuff.” That Ai earnestly asks “like pillow fights?” really says it all about Ai’s sheltered existence.

Ai dreams of a memory of her walking in on Koito crying while in Sawaki’s arms, adding a fresh dimension to their past together. One could interpret such a scene in any number of ways both innocent and otherwise, but Ai quickly apologizes and shuts the classroom door, believing she’d seen something she shouldn’t have. She’s also pondered ever since whether Sawaki was a factor Koito’s suicide. She wakes up in her cocoon bed, over 50% of which is being taken up by the smaller Rika.

Ai then awakes in Rika’s dream. Due to their proximity in bed they “synchonized”, as Ura-Aka tells them, and it’s Rika’s dream because she’s apparently the one with the stronger feelings. They crack their eggs at once, revealing two fans of the singer “Yu-Yu”. They were so fanatical, in fact, that when Yu-Yu committed suicide, they did the same. When Ai says “just like that?” Rika corrects her: their choice was neither easy nor casual. She knows, because she had a fan.

When the usual horde of Seeno Evils (which Rika calls “bystanders”) starts to swarm, Rika and Ai get to work smiting them with their weapons; Rika’s two swords resembling giant versions of the box cutter she used to cut herself. It’s determined the field of flowers is too wide open, so the four girls head to a lighthouse within the nearby woods. It’s there, while they have a couple minutes to catch their breath, that Ai asks Rika to tell her about Chiemi.

After hand-waving the scars Ai spots as “just a youthful whatever”, Rika starts out by explaining the formal and emotional context of a junior-idol handshake event. When you’re only mildly popular like her group was, the lines were shorter, which meant the same fans would line up over and over. Chiemi did this with Rika, who shook her sweaty hand many hundreds of times.

Eventually, Chiemi would give Rika money. Rika accepted it, and began to expect and even rely on it. Like the two Yu-Yu fans who had “sugar daddies”, Rika saw Chiemi as a rich patron. She later learned Chiemi was shoplifting and fencing stuff to make money to give her. When Chiemi started to think of them as friends, Rika ended their relationship, ripping Chiemi off like a Band-Aid and telling her she was too fat and ugly to be anything more than a fan and a wallet.

She never saw Chiemi again until her funeral, and was forever haunted by what she saw that day. In a gutting inversion of the geography of the handshake event, Rika and Chiemi have switched places. Peering into the open casket, Rika saw nothing but skin and bones, like a mummy. Knowing she’ll never be able to forget her if she tried, Rika took Chiemi’s hand one more time. Since then, she’s vowed to kill as many Seenos and Wonder Killers as it takes if it will bring her back.

The Seenos break through, leading to a frenetic chase up the spiraling lighthouse stairs. Ai stumbles, still processing Rika’s heartbreaking tale, but also acknowledging that while she receded into the Seenos at a crucial time due to fear, a part of her also resented Koito for never talking to her like friends should; the kind of talking she just experienced with Rika, which helped her understand better where she’s coming from and why she is the way she is.

She also looks on the Yu-Yu fangirls with a measure of envy. They were able to die with their idol. If Koito had asked her to die with her, she thinks she would have. But what’s done is done, and what was left unsaid remains so. Ai gets back on her feet and powers up her rainbow mace, striking a very cool heroine pose at the top of the steps and assuring Rika she’ll kill ’em all with her. Rika’s quizzical reaction is priceless.

From there, we meet the fangirls’ Wonder Killer, an older woman who stalked Yu-Yu and pushed her into suicide. Ai and Rika spring into action like the pair of valiant heroines they are. Rika frees the fans by slicing off the Killer’s arm, while Ai delivers a crushing blow to the face with her mace.

What follows is why it’s particularly hazardous to engage in boss fights before you’re aware of their special moves. The Killer unleashes a cloud of dark smoke that everyone is able to dodge except Rika, who is immediately paralyzed and soon turns to stone. Before her face petrifies, she wishes Ai good luck. It’s all up to Ai now: she must protect the petrified Rika and the helpless Yu-Yu fans while defeating the biggest toughest Wonder Killer yet.

Perhaps Ai and/or Rika haven’t considered that Aka and Ura-Aka are just using them. Or they’re fighting even while part of them is well aware they may end up getting cheated. But in either case they have no other choice. Now Ai’s mettle will be tested like never before. Hopefully she can get the job done and wake up beside Rika, with neither of them too seriously injured.

Kakushigoto – 04 – Somewhere Far Away

This week’s time leap occurs at the beginning, with 18-year-old Hime explaining that the boxes her mother left her were full of things she’d need for the age labeled. Because everything was pre-stored, some if not most of those items were out of date by the time Hime attained those ages.

But she doesn’t mind. Thanks to the boxes, she’s able to experience a unique closeness to her mother she couldn’t have experienced. They serve as both time capsules and something like prophesies about a future Hime’s mother couldn’t possibly see…and yet at the same time, could.

But it’s back to the more lighthearted present-day of the show, when an assistant notes Kakushi is signing unimportant documents with “Kazushi”, assuming it’s his real name. However, Kakushi is his real name, and used it when he got published, so it’s his pen name as well.

When Kakushi’s editor Tomaruin goes to the EiC to declare his artists’ wish to change his pen name, the higher-ups are worried Kakushi has fallen in with fortune-tellers who may brainwash him not just to change his name, but start a cult! While having lunch with Ichiko, considers what it would be like for people to name their children after characters he created…only to find a woman named a dog after one of them…purely coincidentally.

Also coincidentally, Hime gets into onomancy (divination through names) and determines that while her pop has 5-star luck in just about everything, he should avoid the artistic fields at all costs. Later, Tomaruin stops by Kakushi’s house to find Hime engaging in Nadila’s native version of fortune-telling.

The editor is immediately smitten with Nadila, and returns to the bosses with the glazed cult member look, declaring his new name is “CEO”. But at the end of the day, Hime tells her dad they can rest assured, because there’s a guardian spirit watching over them both. That spirit is, of course, her mom.

When Hime comes to her father with an art assignment and asks for help with the background, the subject of “can dad draw?” comes up, something Kakushi would really rather avoid. That said, his assistant worry about his background skills as he hasn’t had to draw them in years (to say nothing of coloring).

While at first Kakushi wanted to balance helping Hime create an impressive work of art and exposing the fact he’s a professional artist, the assistants bring him back down to earth, making him raise the question of whether he can cut it with non-manga art after doing nothing but manga for so long!

The answer is, well…not really! Not because he’s particularly bad at backgrounds or coloring, but because his manga background unconsciously influences his style. He discovers this when on a lark he attends an art class run by none other than…Future Idol Senda Naru, who assumes he’s there to see her!

Naru is pretty good herself, and it’s she who gets Kakushi to realize manga has been so absorbed throughout his artistic language, he’ll sketch a stone bust like a shounen hero without even trying. But this is all moot, as Ichiko informs him when he leaves the class: he’s not allowed to help Hime with her drawing at all!

Now Kakushi isn’t worried about embarrassing Hime with manga-style backgrounds, but of Ichiko and Hime’s peers questioning her integrity. To avoid any question of him directly aiding Hime with her drawing, he arranges to have Ichiko accompany them to the zoo.

Ichiko rightly sees this as a date, belieiving Kakushi wants to keep them at a distance in case people see a teacher on a date with a student’s parent and get the wrong idea. Of course, this is the wrong idea, and Kakushi is just trying to protect Hime’s honor, but by the end of the date Ichiko thought the date was wonderful!

Kakushi’s odd date parameters also cause Ichiko to pay a different price with her other students: when she tells them her date is “far away” while looking wistfully up in the sky, they assume she’s gone crazy from the grief of a dead lover, and promise to behave in class from now on!

The myriad misunderstandings—some positive, some negative—are all a matter of the perspective of the observers. And so it is with Hime’s drawing: when the tigers don’t come out of their cave, she decides to draw herself and her dad from the tigers’ perspective—an idea both beyond her years and just the kind of creative thinking a kid would come up with organically.

Kakushi proceeds to buy the most gaudy, expensive frame for the drawing and hangs it prominently on the wall, despite Hime’s believe it disrupts the feng shui. Kakushi finds something very familiar about the drawing. Sure (and eerily) enough, the composition is identical to a photo he and his wife had taken with baby Hime at the same tiger enclosure, on the same bench.

In that regard Hime wasn’t just drawing what the tigers in the cave saw, but what her mother saw from her perspective “far away”, up in the sky: her daughter and father safe and happy, returning to a spot they once all shared. And so even without a time leap, the ending made me tear up all the same!

Kakushigoto – 03 – The Accidental Harem

I came into Kakushigoto hoping it would be a lightweight feel-good slice-of-life father/daughter comedy. Yet every time it jumps to a future where an 18-year-old Hime has apparently lost her father pushes it into striaght-up drama territory. Everything in the present and 10-year-old Hime exhibits a thin layer of wistfulness, lending even mundane or comedic scenes more emotional weight, like the shading of a manga frame.

This week only begins (and doesn’t end) with a time leap, so we can still ease into the present-day slice-of-lifeness. But we learn something definitively that I had been suspecting: the house at the top of the hill is the exact same plan as the one 10-year-old Hime lived in. Kakushi apparently had a copy of the house built to the exact specs of the older one…where perhaps he and his wife lived before Hime?

In Mangaland, Kakushi’s entire staff has injuries, a stroke of bad luck and coincidence, so his editor hires a substitute replacement. The regular assistants are impressed with his speed and efficiency, but Kakushi deems him “too efficient” for an assistant.

That confuses them at first—how could an assistant be too fast and efficient?—until they find that assistant published his first work. Once an assistant has reached a certain level of skill, there’s nothing stopping them from striking out on their own, without even mentioning how he worked for Kakushi for a few days or so!

As for the curious design of the house, Hime’s friends wonder out loud if Hime and her dad are poor (of course, one of them has an elevator and concierge in her house, so wealth is surely relative). Hime had never thought about finances before, but takes it upon herself to pinch every penny.

Kakushi comes home on a hot summer day to find the A/C suspiciously turned off and Hime pressing her body against the nice, cool floor. He proceeds to tell her he makes far more than the average salaryman, almost betaying that he’s not really a salaryman before recovering and saying he’s more like upper middle management. He also almost explains why the house looks the way it does, but stops himself.

Since Hime found not only clothes but age-appropriate cooking recipes in her 10-year-old box (her mom really went the extra mile), Kakushi allows Hime to cook with the housekeeper. Turns out the housekeeper is from Indonesia, and so puts an Indonesian flair on the recipe. This mirrors a situation at work where the studio is digitized and they receive a rainy day from a remote artist, only it’s an Indonesian day, not a Japanese one.

Hime’s school sports festival arrives, and Kakushi tries to get himself in shape should he have to do anything athletic. There’s a fun bit discussing the various muscle groups used while reading manga. Then he has trouble drawing a high school girl character aspiring to be an idol, only to come home and find a high school girl aspiring to be an idol in his house, the guest of her first-ever fan, Hime.

The girl, Senda Naru, is so surprised that an adult (and a man) is so eager to hear her story (because Kakushi needs material for his manga), that by the time they part ways she’s developed a bit of a thing for him. She won’t be the first!

As Kakushi openly expresses his worries about his daughter not having a mother around, he inadvertently compliments both his cooking teacher You and the local florist Kumi. When the clothier sells his salaryman disguise and he has to go out in public in white tie like a groom, he runs into Rokujou, who assumes he’s proposing and wigs out.

By the time the festival rolls around, Hime has an entire cheering section composed of her dad, and his rather sudden but diverse harem: You, Kumi, Rokujou (who turns into a demon when she sees Kakushi with the other women), and the aspiring idol Naru. Yet Hime is more bemused than appreciative; for all of Kakushi’s worries, Hime isn’t missing a mother in the slightest. If anything, she’d rather spend more time with just him!

The fact she’s so naturally mature about these things at ten years old (not to mention how quickly she learns how to clean and cook) makes be believe that despite having neither parent alive, 18-year-old Hime is going to be just fine. That means Kakushi did a great job, despite his insecurities … which makes the time leaps a little less sad.

In / Spectre – 05 – A Ghost Born from a Wiki

very cross Saki arrives just in time to witness her ex go toe-to-toe with the vicious steel beam-wielding ghost of an idol. Saki had seen Kurou’s cuts heal immediately and even saw his detached finger regenerate, but had never seen him die, which is what happens when Nanase whacks his head off.

I was surprised Saki didn’t let out a scream upon witnessing such a  horrifying sight, but in possibly an even more unsettling sight, Kurou’s head is whole again and he’s alive and well just a minute or so later.

Having taken her best shot, Nanase can’t really do anything else other than try to kill Kurou again. Kurou is also able to predict her generally mindless movements, but even when he snaps her neck she’s back as quickly as he was. Perhaps sensing a stalemate, Nanase disapparates to fight another night.

We learn through Kotoko that Kurou is the result of his insane grandmother performing human experimentation on members of the Sakuragawa clan and the flesh of the immortal mermaid and future-seeing kudan. Kurou was the first to consume both and not immediately keel over and die, but in gaining the abilities of the monsters he ate, he naturally became less human.

This is no doubt a large part of why Kotoko is so enamored of Kurou—they both inhabit the space between humans and the supernatural, and who else would be able to deal with either of them? But while Kotoko is determined to make Kurou her husband, Kurou seems to be less enthusiastic and even fatalistic about the prospect of such an often annoying brat being his only hope at happiness.

Kurou’s reunion with Saki is pleasantly cordial, underscoring how there’s still love there for both of them and things ended so abruptly as to lack closure, and thus cause emotional confusion upon seeing one another again. The reason Kurou is there is because some of the monsters in the city sought out his aid without using Kotoko as a go-between, demonstrating effectiveness of her efforts to make him less frightening to her supernatural pals.

Meeting in Saki’s apartment, where Kotoko must endure Kurou staring at his ex (who says she lost weight due to her police job, not depression), Kotoko explains how a “monster of the imagination” like Steel Lady Nanase comes into physical existence. It’s essentially a matter of humans playing a game of telephone with each other regarding a rumor, which is spread, embellished, and refined until it is given name and a form.

Typically monsters of imagination aren’t grave threats to humanity, but Steel Lady Nanase clearly is, and the rumor that eventually gave her form was essentially supercharged by the power of the internet to reach more people and gain viral status. Thus, the wiki Saki found wasn’t created in response to Nanase, Nanase was created because of the wiki.

Kurou can fight Nanase all night long, every night, but she’ll never be defeated for good until a new rumor, one simultaneously more enticing to people and less lethal to people than the current iteration. That won’t be easy, but Kotoko is already a powerful conduit for human-supernatural networking, which means no one’s better suited for the job.

In / Spectre – 04 – Much More than Big Melons

Despite Saki’s hospitality in bringing Kotoko into her home to tend to her minor wounds and serving her coffee, it doesn’t take long for pleasantries to cease and for the barbs to start flying.

Saki is dubious that Kotoko and Kurou are really dating, and isn’t convinced by Kotoko’s obviously forced “couple” photos. Kotoko eventually reveals that Kurou disappeared a week ago and hasn’t answered her calls or texts—more fuel for Saki’s “he doesn’t like you” fire.

After Kotoko takes her leave (on the shoulder of an awesome giant skeleton!) Saki wastes no time diving into the internet to research the life of Nanase Karin, a well-endowed beauty who could also boast a sharp intellect.

She gained a flame-throwing lead role on a live-action drama (the OP for which we see in its entirety) and her fame grew, but her father, whom it’s believed she resented after he quit working, died under mysterious consequences.

An unscrupulous tabloid put forth the theory that she murdered her father to get him out of the picture (and collect on his life insurance), Karin took a kind of sabbatical. But the day after a bad storm an eyewitness found a body buried under fallen steel beams.

The head and face were completely pulverized, but the rest of the body, clothes, belongings all pointed to Karin as the victim of the accident. Some time after that the legend of a vengeful spirit grew in the town.

Both Saki and Kotoko arrive at the same point in their respective investigations, but only Saki has the benefit of police records and resources to support their case. The idea is planted in both their heads that there’s more to this Steel Lady Nanase than has been covered by news, reports, and the internet.

My take? The absence of her face could mean the body was that of Karin’s older (and similar-looking) sister, whose life Karin then took over…but that’s just one of several theories rattling around.

Before Kotoko and Saki meet to put their heads together (and make no mistake, Kotoko relishes being able to freak Saki out with youkai), Kotoko is informed that Steel Lady Nanase has reappeared, and finds Kurou dueling with her.

In / Spectre – 03 – From Snakes to Steel

Kotoko finishes explaining the Tanio Aoi case to the serpent guardian spirit’s satisfaction: Aoi wanted the police to find the remains of a fetus she miscarried and buried in the swamp after learning of Machii’s betrayal and then learned that he was innocent. Kurou escorts her to a taxi where she falls asleep on his shoulder after he admonishes her for taking such risks.

It was odd that the showrunners chose to end this case so quickly into this episode before a new case began; it might’ve been more elegant to simply wrap up the serpent case last week. At any rate, two years suddenly pass, and we’re re-introduced to Kurou’s ex Yumihara Saki, now a traffic cop but still haunted by the supernatural things she became aware of through Kurou.

A rumor has spread of Nanase Karin, a busty idol killed by a steel beam now using that beam to attack people as the faceless ghost “Steel Lady Nanase.” Saki heard a statement from one of her victims who survived a car crash but it was later discounted due to him being under duress/in shock. Saki doesn’t deny to her supervisor that whatever caused the accident, she believes there are “beings that surpass logic and reasoning.”

She also has a nasty flashback to her traumatic incident with Kurou and the kappa that led to her eventually breaking up with him. Saki still lives every day in fear and depression, and has only become more aware of youkai and such since the breakup. That’s when she encounters Iwanaga Kotoko, who just so happens to be battling Steel Lady Nanase on the hill Saki uses to get home.

Sick and tired of being ruled by fear, Saki charges Nanase recklessly, dodges her steel beam and punches her right in the gut, only for her fist do go right through the ghost. Kotoko swoops in, loses her false leg, and delivers a solid kick to Nanase, forcing her to withdraw. Saki, a cop, was just saved from a ghost by a petite amputee in a sun dress.

It’s a lot to take in, but Saki still does her duty, not letting Kotoko slink away without treating her wounds—and in the process, hopefully gain more answers about WTF just happened. That’s when she flashes her badge, Kotoko realizes the cop is Saki’s ex, and re-introduces her as Kurou’s new girlfriend.

As this is a bit much to take after such a harrowing incident, Saki gives Kotoko a good slug to the face for her lack of tact! But despite the bad vibes surrounding Kurou, who doesn’t yet appear after the two year jump, I think Kotoko is just the person Saki needs to know at this point in time. Not just for the Nanase Karin case, but for her own emotional benefit.

Val x Love – 03 – Idolization

With her two triplet sisters leveled up, it’s the turn of sixth daughter Mutsumi, proving the greatest challenge due to her occupation as a wildly popular idol. Leveling up means going on a date with Takuma and not only getting through his layers of social anxiety, but avoiding being exposed, which could cause scandal and deep-six her career. That’s tricky when Takuma inadvertently attracts all the wrong attention; he’s essentially the anti-idol to her idol, the source of all their fear and hatred rather than hope and love.

Matters are made worse by the fact the watchdog from Hel Garm is shadowing them, but rather than attack the Valkyrie directly, sends the Gjallarhorn to disrupt her leveling up. In one of the weirder and more aggravating depictions of the legendary horn, this one takes the form of a small robot with a siren on its head constantly pointing out the presence of MUTSUMI to the public. Takuma just wants to get away, but recalling how Mutsumi just wants to help her family, he takes her hand to lead her away from the gawkers.

Despite having frequented the mall since he was little, Takuma leads them not to an exit, but a dead end, and he and Mutsumi must squeeze intimately into a storage locker as their pursuers close in. Due to their positions and height difference, Mutsumi can’t kiss him on the mouth to transform instantly; she must resort to kissing his chest, which takes three minutes. They just make it thanks to a last-minute assist from the eldest daughter Ichika, and Mutsumi flies them out of there with her signature wings.

While the constant references to MUTSUMI’s ample bust (and ample close-ups of same) weren’t the most necessary, they do paint the picture of the challenges she faces every day as a cute-yet-pure idol. And yet we learn through her inner thoughts throughout the date (delivered with gusto by the squeaky but talented Hidaka Rina) that she has the same desires as anyone else.

While she thought she’d given Takuma nothing but bad memories on their date, when they’re floating in the sky watching the sunset, Takuma actually smiles, fondly remembering sunsets he watched with his mom. Garm and that horrid horn aside, the foes he and Mutsumi had to beat this week weren’t demons, but rather his fear and her fame. On to the next sister!

Kabukichou Sherlock – 02 – A Star Isn’t Born

Another day, another case for Detective Row, a loose collective of private dicks like Sherlock who compete for jobs. Sherlock doesn’t let the fractured leg he suffered when Watson hit him with a car slow him down—though he does exploit Watson’s guilt (and need for his services, though the exact nature of his personal case is still not known) by essentially making him his servant.

This time it’s not murder-most-foul, but a case of a florist named Fujiko who fell victim to an apparent scam. She was convinced she was scouted by an idol agency for her distinctive symmetrical beauty marks, but after a week of strenuous training, the agent vanished without a trace on the day of her big audition.

Upon taking the case, Sherlock puts Watson to work cleaning his house, then puts on a disguise (that doesn’t fool any of his fellow detectives) and heads to the florist’s to meet Saori the part-timer who was watching the store while she was practicing for the idol audition.

There is loud music playing when he comes in, which he abruptly cuts off, after which there are strange banging noises. Saori comes out from the back room, her skirt covered in a strange powder. Sherlock later declares he’s found the culprit, but is furious when he learns one of his rivals, Mary Morstan, also knows…thanks to Watson.

Being from the West Side of Shinjuku, Watson is an easy mark, as evidenced when his wallet was stolen last week. But when he chats with the pretty Mary, she puts a bug in his clothes. That’s how she learns what Sherlock learns…and Sherlock tosses Watson out, warning him never to return.

Watson is almost victimized once again by a gang of little kids who know how to turn on the charm (and turn it right back off at the drop of a hat). He’s saved by the same high school-age lad who recovered his wallet, and a frequent visitor of Sherlock’s.

As for Sherlock, he manages to catch Saori and her accomplice, and when they ask how he knew, he has another one of his wonderful impromptu rakugo sessions, explaining how when Fujiko was off practicing for a non-existent audition, Saori hacked away at the wall between the florist…and the vault of pawn shop containing gold bars.

Sherlock didn’t account for a third thief in The Cobra showing up, but he’s bailed out thanks to the high school lad—whose name we later learn is none other than James Moriarty—telling Watson where Sherlock was. The bank rewards Sherlock a cool 20 million, on top of the million he got for uncovering Fujiko’s scammers. I’d say Watson earned a cut of that this week!

Sarazanmai – 01 (First Impressions) – Secrets, Lies, and Butt Stuff

“The world is full of connections,” muses Yakaza Kazuki at the start of things. Yeah, no duh, Kierkegaard. That’s especially true in Tokyo (Asakasa specifically), where many people are connected both by technology and the relatively small amount of space they share. There’s one connection in particular Kazuki never wants to lose.

Turns out that connection is a ritual exchange of selfies with the local idol, Sarakappa, who is constantly keeping the folk appraised of the latest Asakusa news via the public video screens. While Sara herself is taking a selfie, she happens to catch someone breaking into a car. That someone is Kuji Toi, who chases after her.

Instead, Toi encounters Kazuki, notices he has the same phone strap as the girl, and lunges at him with his ruler-cum-slimjim. Kazuki happens to be grabbing at statue of the Prince of the Kappa Kingdom, and in the ensuing violence, the statue is destroyed, releasing a great gust of wind.

The next day at school the two lads hear a clear ringing bell no one else can, and start compulsively acting like kappas, dousing themselves with water, doing a sumo dance, or eating cucumbers. Neither knows what the heck is going on.

The ringing leads them back to the destroyed statue (now a crime scene), where they are introduced to the actual Prince of the Kappas, Keppi, whom they awoke with their roughhousing. Keppi seems level-headed enough…until Toi dares to call him a “frog.”

Keppi reaches into their anuses (yep) and extracts their shirikodama, an organ containing desire, then gobbles them up and transforms them into kappas themselves. When Kazuki’s best mate Enta arrives to see what’s up, he ends up calling Keppi a frog, so he’s transformed as well. It’s a very gross process!

The gross weirdness continues when Keppi assigns them their mission: extract the shirikodama from a “zombie kappa” in the “Field of Desires,” a realm between life and death where no humans can see them, but where the kappa and zombie kappa dwell.

This particular zombie is hoarding stolen “Kappamazon” packages, and his deep dark secret is his compulsion to empty the boxes and place them on his head while naked. The three kappa-lads work together to sing a musical number, blast through the zombie’s defenses, reach and enter his anus, and successfully extract his shirikodama. Again, quite gross!

After the extraction, before they pass the shirikodama to Keppi, the three undergo the titular “Sarazanmai”—a connection of mind and soul between the three. Within that state, Toi learns that Kazuki and the girl he saw were one and the same, and Enta learns his best friend cross-dresses as an idol, all to send selfies of himself as Sara religiously.

The other two learn Toi is a car thief, but Toi isn’t outwardly ashamed by that, but after the initial embarrassment has passed, neither is Kazuki. Even when Enta tells him he’s cool with his “quirk”, Kazuki insists he isn’t asking for understanding, only for his secret to remain his and his alone…which is fair.

Post-ED (a lush merging of live-action footage, augmented reality lightwork and animation with a very catchy peggies song) there’s another strange incident involving two very pale, stylish cops extracting something from their prisoner, but that will have to wait until next week.

Sarazanmai is nothing if not visually bold and doggedly inventive with its madcap brew of mythology, symbology, philosophy, and sociology you tend to get from the work of Ikuhara Kunihiko. Its narrative isn’t always the easiest to follow but you can be assured it’s going to look and sound cool and explore ideas few anime do (especially when it comes to contemporary social issues), which definitely helps.

Non-fans of kappas (or, incidently, Ikuhara) probably need not apply, nor should anyone who is uncomfortable with the occasional…stylized anal extraction. But there’s a lot to like here so far.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 04 – A Daifuku is a Daifuku

I’m compelled to preface this review with a bit of a rant: I simply couldn’t buy Hajime not knowing that his childhood friend Hinako is his favorite idol, HINA.

Most anime rely on a certain degree of suspension of disbelief, but I can tell quite plainly that Hinako is HINA, and so can Alec. Both of us have just met her. And the only elements that “disguise” her are glasses, a big braid, and hair that magically changes color (what’s up with that?)

Therefore it’s nigh inexcusable that someone Hajime has known since they were little kids, and seen nearly every day, could not discern the resemblance, unless he were “face-blind” like Oliver Sacks or Chuck Close. Since there’s no indication he is, his inability to see HINA in Hinako makes him look stupid, and made me feel stupid for going along with it.

Now, an amendment to that rant: I wrote it before I watched the entire episode, pausing it after the cold open. And here’s the thing: once I did watch it, the show managed to not only restore my suspension of disbelief, but reinforce it.

By the end, the charm of the episode convinced me that maybe it’s okay, for now, for Hajime to be an oblivious dolt. Perhaps because, for the time being, it’s okay for Hinako herself, and that’s what matters here.

When Hajime announces to the club that he’s won one of only 100 passes to a live meet-and-greet with his beloved HINA, it suddenly places Hajime in a bind: there’s no way he won’t recognize her when they come face-to-face, bereft of the filters of photos on glossy paper or the scan of television screens and the internet.

Moreover, Hajime is an emotional wreck, and cannot fathom coming face-to-face with HINA at all without collapsing in a puddle of flop sweat. His club members suggest he “practice” how to interact with one of them, and that one of them ends up being Hinako.

It’s definitely interesting seeing the two interact together, as Hajime lists all the weird ways he loves HINA, and Hinako outwardly saying no girl wants to hear those things while being inwardly flattered. She also tells her childhood friend the best way to calm oneself: write the character for “person” on his hand and “swallow” it.

Somewhat dragging down the perceived intelligence of the entire cast, Alec and Alec alone is the only one who clearly and immediately realized that Hinako was HINA. Thankfully, it’s something Teresa also realizes as soon as she’s told the truth, giving Hinako two allies in which to confide.

She tells them how a one-time deal taking the place of an ill model suddenly snowballed into a side-career, and when Hajime announced he was a fan of “HINA”, Hinako felt it impossible to tell him. It’s clear to Alec and Teresa that Hinako likes Hajime, but Hinako wants him to figure it out for himself that she and HINA are one and the same.

When Alec calls Hajime “an unfortunate man” for unknowingly worshiping the girl right in front of him, Hinako objects, as Hajime’s oldest and dearest friend has every right to. As she puts it, he may be “stupid and a little perverted” but he’s also a shy sensitive boy with a gentle heart who will always have her back when push comes to shove.

Hinako is worried Hajime will be “disappointed” if he learns the truth, and wishes he’d simply take a stronger interest in the “real her”, but Teresa objects to that: HINA is a part of the real her; she shouldn’t forget that.

The day of the meet-and-greet arrives, and despite their earlier grumblings, everyone turns out to support Hajime (except Hinako, who had “errands to run”). Sure enough, Hajime overcompensates for his shyness by dressing way too…too much, and the boys play rock-paper-scissors, resulting in Tada having to swap clothes with him.

He heads in, and it’s all over so fast. Hajime lost his precious notes in the clothes he gave Tada, and is initially a nervous, sweaty mess with the clock ticking. But HINA asks him what he should do when he’s nervous, and he remembers Hinako telling him about writing “person” and swallowing it.

That just barely does the trick; the staff is about to shuffle him off, but he makes contact with HINA and says what he came to say: to thank her for being born. He’s then taken away by security, leaving Hinako wondering if he finally noticed who she really was.

I’m of the mind that perhaps it did…a little, subconsciously. But Hajime plays his cards close and maintains the belief that Hinako and HINA are two different people when he calls her up later. He first describes how amazingly beautiful HINA was in the flesh, then thanks Hinako for the advice that ended up saving his ass.

While initially disappointed, Hajime’s heartfelt thanks put a smile on Hinako’s face, and she later confides in Teresa and Alec that she’s fine with things the way they are, at least until she summons the confidence to tell him herself. I’m totally fine with that; the ball is in her court. I’m not holding my breath Hajime will ever take the initiative, even if the truth fully comes to him.

As for Teresa, she laments to Alec that she’s kept something from everyone else in the club—namely, I suspect, that she’s Luxembourgian royalty—but Alec tells her not to sweat it and just to enjoy the time they have in Japan, because, after all, it’s only a study abroad trip, and one day it will end and they’ll return to Europe.

As Teresa quietly develops feelings for Tada, she can’t help but relate to Hinako’s dilemma, as Tada perhaps hasn’t shown as much interest in her as she’d like. Only one thing for it: more time and more interactions together.