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 Because everything was pre-stored, some if not most of those items were out of date by the time Hime attained those ages.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.

Kakegurui – 09

Yume-Yume was soooo confident her victory was a lock with this idol gambling competition with Yumeko, she already planned details for her opponent’s future such as sleeping up the corporate ladder and having a porno debut. It’s not really personal; Yume is trying to get to the top of the celebrity mountain, and she needs stepping stones.

So it comes as a shock when Yumeko beats her , just because the competition included just enough luck to favor her over Yumemi. Yumeko’s luck is so conspicuous, it even gets in Yumemi’s head, as thoughts of Yumeko’s doomed future are replaced by the very real present possibility that rant recording will be played and ruin her career.

But here’s the thing: after handing over 50 million yen, and after Yumeko plays the recording to the entire crowd of 100—most of them in Yumemi’s fan club—and afterwards when she confesses and thanks those fans for cheering her on thus far…they don’t abandon her.

Of course they don’t, what self-respecting super-fan would be put off by the discovery of another layer of their idol? They love her unconditionally, and don’t ask for her love in return. In fact, they love her even more because she was honest!

Throw in the fact more than a few of those fans quite enjoy Yumemi yelling at them and telling them they’re scum, and you can see why there weren’t any shots of Yumeko’s reaction to their collective shrug: she too knew that real fans wouldn’t care about Yumemi’s rant.

Well, the game’s over, the money’s been paid, the ‘blackmail’ material backfired as planned, Yumemi’s idol career is safe, and she learned a valuable lesson. Time to SING! And hey, credit where it’s due: Kakegurui actually bothers to animate the two Yumes dancing and singing through the credits.

After that, Yumeko reveals the reason she fought Yumemi at all, besides the thrill of the gamble: she wants to have another gamble with a superior foe: Manyuda Kaede, the Sudent Council member who put the whole idol competition together.

When Kaede pleads innocence and demands proof he “deceived” Yumemi with the fan letter that set her off, Yumeko rightly points out they’re not in a court of law, but in a gambling school. She challenges him to a gamble in which the winner’s story will be deemed the truth.

Kaede refuses…but Yumeko to use her Miké tag to request an official match; one Kaede cannot refuse. Looks like Yumeko was using Yumemi as a stepping stone to Kaede, and eventually, the president herself.

Kakegurui – 08

When the cat (Momobari) is away, the mice (the student council second-years) will play. The latest member to set her sights on Yumeko is Yumemite Yumemi, who despite having a tongue-twister of a name is the school’s unofficial idol, already viral on YourTube and with a loyal army of fans.

Meanwhile, the rumors flying of Yumeko retaining her livestock status so she can challenge the presdient, Sumeragi approaches her, and after pretending to play innocent, she later fesses up to wanting a position in the council back, once Yumeko takes over.

We also quickly learn Yumemi is another two-face; with probably the greatest difference between her public and private personas. While she’s open and hands on with her sweaty fans, she secretly despises them, flashing horrific faces twisted in disgust. But she accepts the discomfort as the price of attaining her goals.

When Yumeko and Yumemi finally meet, they don’t play nice for long, as Yumeko is pretty aware of Yumemi’s disdain for her fans. The facade drops, and Yumeko manages to provoke Yumemi into an anti-fan tirade that she secretly records on a device she hid in Yumemi’s assistant.

The gamble in question seems to be a battle of idols, with Yumeko having to join Yumemi’s idol group and live the life of an idol if she loses, while Yumemi, confident Yumeko is underestimating her, agrees that if she loses the incriminating audio will be distributed and ruin her idol career in its infancy.

The details on how this particular idol-themed gamble will be laid out and scored remains a mystery, but there’s not doubt that whatever happens, Yumeko’s star will only rise with this new, very public opportunity. We also learn Ryouta is a big fan of Yumemi’s, but I assume he’ll be rooting for Yumeko as the two square off.

Sakura Quest – 02

Yoshino I is still very much The Reluctant Queen, but Ushimatsu doesn’t care, and sets her to work immediately. He’ll let her vacate her one-year contract if she can sell a hundred a thousand boxes of “Chupakabura manju” sweets he ordered to celebrate her coronation. And she only has a week to do it—that’s their “best enjoyed by” date.

It’s clear Shiori doesn’t want her new queen to leave so soon, but she still helps Yoshino out, connecting her first with her timid but tech-savvy childhood friend Ririko, whose mother runs Manoyama’s sweet shop. The encounter helps Yoshino decide on the proper marketing strategy to sell the manju: a website.

For that, Shiori takes Yoshino to the home of another Tokyo ex-pat, Kouzuki Sanae, who seems to be slowly losing it in her dark, litter-filled apartment. When she screams due to a bug, Shiori and Yoshino barge in, and Shiori, like a boss, takes care of the bug while the other two cower. Between Riri and Sanae, I’m loving the detailed, isolated, lived-in little worlds these women inhabit within the town.

Sanae is eager to help her new town out (as well as for human contact) so she works through the night at Yoshino and Maki’s cabin to whip up a “fancyccult” website. Alas, on the first day of sales, Yoshino manages to part with precisely zero of one thousands boxes of manju.

When they try to make the queen seem contrite about ordering too much (after far too many hilarious provisos were attached to her beauty), that results of the sale of three boxes…to Shiori’s family.

Taking things up a notch, they decide to take Maki’s advice and make a video. Maki, AKA “The Oden Detective”, who has experience in acting, superhero shows, and part-time labor, plays the chupakabura, while Riri is the cameraperson.

It’s a modest but cute little production…but it only results in netting one more sale—to the creepy (Westerner?) musician Yoshi first met on the bus. The week comes and goes, and Yoshino is pathetically short of the thousand sales needed to release her from her year-long contract. 996 sales short, to be exact. And yet…she learns that’s not such a big deal.

When she asked Sanae why she left Tokyo, Sanae said she was simply sick of it. Sick of Tokyo, thought Yoshino? The place that has everything and where you can do anything? Where countless opportunities abound? Yoshino has this idea that she can’t make it anywhere if she can’t make it there, but she has it all backwards.

The economy of Tokyo alone may surpass the entire economy of South Korea, but if you apply to thirty-two companies and get thirty-two rejections, then end up with a gig as queen of Manoyama, maybe the universe is trying to tell you something: that, as Sanae says, “you don’t need Tokyo.”

At the end of the week, Yoshino made some great friends and had a lot of fun. So when Shiori tells her the cherry blossoms won’t come for a couple more weeks, she decides, all on her own, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world to spend those couple more weeks in Manoyama. And as much as I too love and admire Tokyo, I don’t blame her. She’s got a good thing going here. And she’s not anywhere near her ‘golden years’!

Sakura Quest – 01 (First Impressions)

Koharu Yoshino has a memory of being crowned Queen when she was very little, and ever since, has felt like she was meant for greater things; that she wasn’t just a normal girl who escaped the sticks to attend college in Tokyo. Now 20, reality seems to mock Yoshino’s pretensions of royalty, and her phone’s inbox amasses “good luck” in the form of polite rejections from job interviews.

The last thing Yoshino wants is to move back in with her folks in her sleepy, aging speck hometown, and as a city boy myself, I can relate to never wanting to stray too far from the gleaming skyscrapers and sheer dense humanity of a big city.

But she’s down to 980 yen in her bank account, and when she graduates from college, her parents will either welcome her back with open arms, or cut her off. Gal needs cash, fast. So when she gets a phone call from a promotional agency she once modeled for (and by once I mean one time), offering work in the sleepy town of Manoyama, she’s in no position to decline. 980 yen will not get you far in Tokyo, after all.

So when the convertred City Girl takes the train out to Manoyama and catches the picturesque sight of mountains, gently rolling hills, farmland, and sky, she declares “there’s nothing here” and wonders if she got on the wrong train.

She didn’t, but it would seem she is the wrong Koharu. The town board chief Ushimatsu fumes about her not being the beloved (by him) idol Koharu Tsubaki, whom he meant to crown as Queen of the “Kingdom of Chupakabura”, part of a common practice of small towns raising “independent countries” for tourism purposes during the boom years.

Though the boom went bust, Ushimatsu is committed to restoring the “monarchy” and, hopefully, his rapidly aging and emptying town. Since Tsubaki died eight years ago, he settles for Yoshino, and her coronation is witnessed by a modest crowd of 150 (Note the similarity to Yoshino’s hazy memory of being a Queen).

After the coronation, Yoshino is honored with a feast—albeit just another night of eating and beer-drinking with the old town board members. It’s a warm and welcoming sight, but one gets the feeling she’s not planning on staying more than a day, and may even head back to the station and Tokyo before too long.

These are the dreaded sticks, after all. She sees the shuttered shops and wrinkled faces and remembers the hometown she left and to where she vowed never to return.

But when Shiori (who is her age) drops her off at an absolutely awesome log cabin, she meets another beautiful young woman who gives her a rude awakening: the Queen position is for a year, not a day. It was right there, black-and-white, clear as crystal, in her contract, which she clearly just skimmed.

Unable to accept her fate, Yoshino dashes out into the night, but there’s a weird ukulele player on the bus (her announcement she’s getting off and slow backing out of the bus is the best gag of the ep) and even though it’s barely 10pm, the station is closed.

She even encounters the town’s famed “Chupakabura”, the monster of legend ‘her’ kingdom is named after, and “saves” Shiori by smacking it good, revealing it’s Ushimatsu she smacked. On the ride back to the cabin, Shiori offers her heartfelt hope that Yoshino will stay, if for no other reason than so she can have someone her own age around, working together to make the town a livelier place.

Yoshino is grateful for the kind words, and the positive vibes she starts to get from the town only multiply when she returns to her ‘castle’ (the cabin was locked). A display of photos shows that she was here before. Not only that, as a little girl she was the kingdom’s 100,000th visitor, and crowned as Queen back then.

The realization that her memory was indeed real, and imbued in her a sense of privilege, was a really nice moment, but it doesn’t transform Yoshino; she’s still reluctant to stay and be Queen of Chupakabura, but with her last job prospect back in Tokyo fizzling out, she doesn’t have much choice.

Sakura Quest was a fun ride. Yoshino is an interesting character: she’s not a high schooler for once, but an adult, albeit a young one, and perhaps because of that her jadedness is much more susceptible to neutralization than she thinks. The rest of the cast seems strong too, and the show itself looks great. This has the makings of another P.A. Works winner so far.