Heroines Run the Show – 12 (Fin) – Feeling the Love

A little while after punching Hiyori, Chizuru starts eating alone. The feelings that led to her taking photos and causing a scandal have subsided, but she feels both her relationship to Hiyori and LIPxLIP have been irreparably shattered. But Juri knows Chizuru still cares, because she was genuinely worried about Hiyori after the punch.

Despite what she did, Chizuru is still deserving of redemption, but knows she has to change. The boys, meanwhile, are prepping for their Countdown Live performance, but when Uchida gives them comp tickets, they hesitate to give them to their former manager-in-training, and settle for their respective brothers.

In the midst of kicking her LIP fandom entirely, Chizuru is surprised when Hiyori pops by her place with the ticket Chizuru had bought and then left with Juri. Chizuru maintains she doesn’t deserve to be a fan anymore, and in any case won’t listen to Hiyori and promptly kicks her out.

Things seem grim, until Uchida does what the boys couldn’t and stop by her place to personally deliver not just a comp ticket, but an all-areas staff pass: they won’t admit it, but they need her to be their manager-in-training for this one. Now that both she and Chizuru have he means to go, Hiyori returns to Chizuru’s house, reveals she knows she’s Chutan, and finally tells her the truth about being their manager-in-training.

Chizuru accepts this truth, and understands why Hiyori had to keep it secret. With that, Hiyori leads the two on a mad dash to make the concert on time. Yuujirou and Aizou scold Hiyori for being late but are clearly glad she’s here, while Chizuru finds her seat among all their other classmates and their friends/dates also in attendance.

Invigorated by the sounds of their awaiting Julietas, Yuujirou and Aizou put all the pieces together and deliver perhaps their best performance, one that’s not about advancing to the top of the idol mountain, but performing for the fans and showing their love for them.

AT4 praises them for this, as they finally seem to “get” what being an idol on stage is about. Chizuru is moved to tears by their passion, and Hiyori also feels that this concert hit different, likely because she’s happy to be back by their side as manager-in-training.

After the show, the managers offer Hiyori her old job back, which she accepts with her usual enthusiasm. After AT4 counts down the new year, things go back to normal with Hiyori both on the track, with her two besties, and back at work with LIPxLIP. Presumably Hiyori also told Juri about her job, while Chizuru openly shares her Chutan persona with her friends.

Whether LIPxLIP could actually get away with having Hiyori fill in as a backup dancer with absolutely no training is a little doubtful, but it’s fun to finally see the Heroine take the stage, if only under a mascot costume. No doubt the boys wanted to share with their future full manager what it felt like up there, to be cheered and adored by the masses.

Is this also a bit of a neat and tidy conclusion, what with Hiyori and Chizuru mostly making up off-camera? Are a lot of the issues about parasocial relationships, stalking, and other obsessive behavior mostly tabled in favor of Chizuru’s personal redemption story? Perhaps, but on the other side, I never liked Hiyori’s decision to quit, and I’m glad she’s back on the job. In the end, she really did run the show.

Heroines Run the Show – 11 – The Mask Falls

Our episode opens on someone we haven’t met before: an extremely enthusiastic café maid adding her love to her customer’s omurice. When she removes her wig and puts on those distinctive glasses, we discover it’s Chizuru, who it would seem we still haven’t met…not for real, at least.

Chizuru doesn’t seem to like working her ass off at this job, but she apparently needs to so she can keep making money to send…to LIPxLIP, and Aizou in particular, with whom she is particularly smitten. She has hidden that intense infatuation from both the boys and her friends…but one day she’s sloppy, and Yuujirou hears her phone when she snaps multi-burst shots of them playing basketball.

Back at work and as popular as ever, and with the scandal well behind them, the boys have a new problem: Hiyori isn’t around anymore. Their new old manager mixes up their drinks. It’s a little thing, but after Hiyori made that mistake she never made it again; it speaks to what a dedicated, detail-oriented hard worker she was, and what a void she leaves. Hiyori has done her best to forget about her old job and focuses on track, but her times are slower and she’s clearly eating more at lunchtime.

When Juri notes that the harassment of her has mercifully ceased, Hiyori says she’s most sorry about “hurting the fans”, and as Chizuru is one of them, she has to quickly excuse herself so she can drop the friend facade, whip out one of the photos she took of Hiyori with LIPxLIP, and curse her as she blots her out with a Sharpie. Yuujirou witnesses the entire tirade.

Juri invites herself and Chizuru over to Hiyori’s for a pizza sleepover, but the discussion becomes awkward when Chizuru answers that yes, she does have a crush. That’s when Yuujirou strategically side-checks her in such a way that her bag goes flying…and the incriminating photos fly out too.

Juri’s cavalier reaction—almost as if a part of her she expected something like this, is contrasted by Hiyori’s sheer bewilderment. She’s genuinely unsure of what’s going on, until Chizuru makes it nice and sparkling clear: she fucking hates her guts!

The sleepover obviously cancelled due to the death of good vibes, Hiyori instead runs all night, only to replenish all the calories she burned with another crepe sesh with Mona-chan. Mona draws from her own experience “hating” her sister to tell Hiyori that “hate” is often just an easy label for more complex feelings buried beneath all the bluster.

Hiyori is all aboard with the idea of reaching out to Chizuru and asking her how she really feels, but Chizuru doesn’t want to talk, and avoids her at every turn the next day. I thought at first Hiyori’s superior speed would have the advantage in the ensuing cat-and-mouse, but lest we forget, Chizuru snapped those photos while remaining totally undetected. It’s like trying to corner a ninja!

When Hiyori finally does tackle Chizuru, none of Chizuru’s hostility has dissipated. If anything, she’s even more annoyed that Hiyori won’t leave her the ef alone. But when pressed, Chizuru maintains that she did nothing wrong, and that it’s the “nobody” Hiyori’s fault for getting so close to the idols and not “knowing her place” like Chizuru.

In the rancor she dispenses, Hayami Saori brings back shades of Hatoko’s Rant and demonstrates once more why she’s among the best in the business. When given dramatic meat, she leaves nothing on the bone. The tussling gets more and more physical until the two are literally throwing right crosses at one another, but only Chizuru’s lands, knocking Hiyori clean out with a fountain of blood.

When Hiyori wakes up in the nurse’s, Yuujirou and Aizou are with her…and so is Chizuru, asleep by her bed, clutching her hand, her eyes raw from tears. Seeing her there, one can’t help but forgive her, because she wouldn’t be there if she didn’t actually care about Hiyori. Perhaps she can ditch the easy, safe hatred and explore the true feelings beneath, but the episode wisely doesn’t wake her, leaving us to wonder until next week.

Heroines Run the Show – 10 – The Stir

The rumors of a LIPxLIP member romance around going away, as evidenced by the appearance of the photos on television, with Hiyori’s face pixelated. That makes it so Narumi Mona can’t quite recognize the girl she met a few weeks back, while Sena insists neither of the boys would be incautious enough to date a classmate.

But while the rumors and nasty online comments abound, it’s not that bad for our LIPxLIP and their manager-in-training. Her support network was already established last week, but the three also have the support of their teacher and by extension the school. Yuujirou’s father also sees this as evidence his son actually is making something of himself, and that the Someya family is far tougher than these petty rumors.

That said, Hiyori decides to keep her distance from the two and encourages them not to talk or interact with her, which they rightfully consider to be a pain. They may not admit it, but Hiyori is not just their manager-in-training, but a friend. Speaking of friends, Hiyori feels terrible having to lie about her connections to the boys, even to Chizuru and Juri.

Back at the studio, Uchida outlines the steps being taken to reduce the damage to the LIPxLIP brand, including explaining and apologizing to all of their corporate sponsors and supporters. Yuujirou’s kabuki prodigy brother Kouichirou makes a surprise appearance to help the lads track down whoever did this and punish them.

But for Hiyori’s that’s, as she would say it, crossin’ a line. Idols shouldn’t be accusing or fighting with fans. She’s read their fan mail; she knows the genuine love and support they have for LIPxLIP, and she knows that even if it was unintentional, she damaged that bond by simply being in those photos. For that reason, she decides to quit her job as manager-in-training.

It’s a very Hiyori move, putting the fans of her charges ahead of her own dreams, even if the boys remark that she’s not one to back down from a race or a challenge, considering they were that very thing at the beginning. But ultimately it’s a decision they let Hiyori make because it’s hers to make.

Suddenly bereft of their chipper manager-in-trainin’, Yuujirou and Aizou end up hanging out with their respective brothers. An odd shot of Ken earlier in the episode had me suspecting him as the sneak photographer, and his making what looks like a huge homemade meal of Aizou’s favorite dishes look like an apology.

As for Yuujirou, we learn the reason he got in trouble with the police: he was covering for his younger brother, who had been led astray by his senpais into a club where he was underage. It’s why Kouichirou wanted to help Yuujirou out with the scandal; he owes him.

But Yuujirou decides to hold onto that chip; he’s got this, along with Aizou. After all their time together, it’s amazing they don’t have each others cell phone numbers, and even though Aizou sneaks onto the Someya compound and climbs a tree as if to meet with his Juliet, they make no effort to exchange them.

That said, with help from Uchida, they set up a press conference in which they bare themselves to the masses salivating for content. All of their responses are quick, calm, well-rehearsed, no doubt also due to Uchida, but also the boys’ consummate professionalism, even when backed into a corner.

It’s also easy for fans and onlookers alike to relate to their situation: they could have gone full-in to professional entertainment, but chose to balance that with a legit high school life, and all the fun, simple little moments that make it. Moments like the ones the photos captured. At the end of the day, the photos tell the truth: these three are good friends.

The press conference invites the public to see their side of things, and their explanation of their “precious classmate” with whom they share their high school life is largely accepted, even embraced. But Hiyori watches it all in her darkened apartment, suddenly out of the picture and out of action. Again, this was her choice, but if she hadn’t made it, no one would have asked her to give up her job.

Uchida wasn’t being nice when she said she was glad she hired “Hiyako”. I just hope Hiyori comes to her senses and returns to work. If nothing else, her living expenses ain’t gonna pay for themselves!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 09 – Whose Girlfriend?

After what felt like a relatively sedate field day detour, HRS kicks back into gear, though there’s a bit of lag as the first half or so of the episode is slice-of-life luxuriating. This is not a complaint: it’s great to see Hiyori back on the track, her hard work motivating the boys to work harder towards their goal of a slot on Countdown Live. The guys even hang out with other guys at school for the first time, playing basketball in the schoolyard.

The episode briefly shifts to montage mode as we see Hiyori, Yuujirou, and Aizou growing closer and closer not as an idol unit and their manager, but three friends, culminating in their celebrating LIPxLIP getting a CDL slot with a three-way high-five. But that private moment is captured by a photographer hiding in the bushes, and the next morning photos of the happy trouple are made very public, causing a scandal.

Hiyori is ostracized by most of the school, but her friends show their quality by unconditionally supporting her all the way, even when she can’t properly explain the photos to anyone. Yuujirou and Aizou try their best to deflect, while Juri, Chizuru, and Hina offer Hiyori the support she needs in an unprecedented time in her life when all eyes are on her.

But while Hiyori the high schooler can power through the gossip and harassment, Hiyori the manager-in-training is another story. Throughout her difficulties, I kept thinking “just tell everyone you’re childhood friends!”, but once the photos are posted online they become a trending topic, and the narrative is officially out of Hiyori’s LIPxLIP’s, and their managers’ control.

Hiyori’s job would seem to be in jeopardy—the next episode is called “I’m Quittin’ Being a Manager”, for cryin’ out loud—but even if this is the beginning of the end, she can look on the bright side: she’ll have more time to hone her track dreams. I for one still hope she can pull out of this tailspin with a little help from her friends, some focused messaging from the adults, and a little luck.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 08 – Photo Finish

With the departure of Nagisa (and, it would seem, Hiyori’s makeover) the show moves on to something else…Field Day, which always ends up a lot blander than the other big school event episode archetype, the cultural festival. That said, a jock like Hiyori lives for such days, and can’t understand why no one in her class wants to volunteer to run in the mixed relay with her.

The teacher has to choose, and he ends up putting Aizou and Yuujirou on the team. The boys are grumpy, as they didn’t think they had to participate in any events, but Tamura actualy made it so their schedule was free to enjoy their “youthful high school life”. They get a lot of attention from the girls, and invoke a lot of envy in the third-year boys.

They find out from Juri and Chizuru that a bunch of girls backed out of their assigned events, and Hiyori is just doing them in their place. At first they’re worried their messy-haired friend is taking to much on, but when they see how much goshdarn fun she’s having darting around like a pinball, they relax.

The field day is also the stage for three distinct couples: one of which we already know of in Hina and Kotarou, who ace the three-legged race by being perfectly in sync. Then there’s Aizou’s brother Ken, who decides to give up his casanova ways and choose one girl, the twin-tailed, slightly tsundere-ish Arisa. Finally, it’s clear when Yamamoto points his camera at Juri that he’s the BF she’s mentioned in passing.

Yuujirou gets the motivation he needs when three third-years try to rough him up; both he and Hiyori are saved by the bell for the relay, otherwise they might’ve started something. Aizou doesn’t care about winning…until his brother is his opponent. As for the fourth unnamed member of the relay team? She’s kinda just there…and I assume she’s their teacher’s kid sister?

Unnamed girl starts the race, but passes the baton cleanly to Yuujirou, who gets to run against one of the surly jealous third-years, and even passes him with his idol smile! It’s a win for Melancholy Cats (one of the listeners of LIPxLIP’s podcast) everywhere.

I would have thought Hiyori would be the last to run, but she’s second-to-last instead, running against her senpai Hina, who builds a bit of a lead for the final handoff. Aizou and Ken slug it out, cheered on by Aizou’s entire grade and a tentative Arisa, respectively. Ultimately, Aizou wins, and in an unguarded moment of joy, Hiyori gives both members of LIPxLIP a high five.

Certain she’s made an enemy of all the school’s fangirls, instead they follow her lead and a hearty exchange of high-fives ensues. Juri then reveals to Hiyori and Chizuru that Yamamoto is her boyfriend. Everyone has a wonderful time, and Hiyori will certainly sleep well later that night. As for me? Ehh. It was a perfectly fine Heroines Run the Show, but by no means the finest.

Heroines Run the Show – 07 – Always My Heroine

Nagisa knows who LIPxLIP is, and it doesn’t take long to get Hiyori to admit that she’s working as their manager-in-training.  It still doesn’t explain why they accompanied her to the station, however. Of course, Hiyori has her revenge for having her secret job so easily revealed. When Nagisa says she seems “different”, she gets him to admit she’s cute just as easily!

I had my reservations about the sudden arrival of Nagisa, but these two are basically the cutest; they’re just such a good fit together…nice and balanced! It’s crystal clear to Aizou and Yuujirou that Nagisa is in love with Hiyori, and only a couple of minutes of riling him up has him standing up like a shounen hero saying “She’s the only girl for me!” Unfortunately for him, when Hiyori tells Nagisa he can stay at her place, it’s just as clear to LIPxLIP that she has no earthly idea Nagisa has those kinds of feelings for her.

Nagisa, being so in love with Hiyori, warns LIPxLIP that he won’t give up on her, even to an idol, and that they “can’t have her.” This comes as a surprise to them, but Nagisa has a point: as someone who once teased Hiyori because he liked her, our idols can’t pretend that there’s something about Hiyori they value above other girls, even as they endlessly say she doesn’t act like a girl most of the time.

As for Nagisa, his stature, good looks, and instant likability have Uchida-san trying to recruit him as an idol. He respectfully declines, as he already has a dream in place: taking over the family restaurant, the fish for which Hiyori’s family provides, making their coupling that much more inevitable.

The actual FT4 show is a lot less built up and laid-back than I expected, but there are some very good reasons for that. True, Aizou and Yuujirou are stewing in the front row as their rivals play with the crowd like putty in their hands, but Nagisa and Hiyori are an island of serenity by comparison.

You can tell he’s super chuffed that Hiyori’s attending a show with him. His favorite member of FT4 is all too fitting: the glue guy who hangs out in the background and lets the others hog the spotlight, but without whom there’d be no music. He doesn’t come out and say it—he may not even be aware—but that’s what Hiyori is becoming to LIPxLIP—increasingly indispensable.

Nagisa has a plan. He never had any designs on staying at Hiyori’s place overnight, but he did bring all the gear he needed to cook her a gourmet meal as thanks for attending FT4 with him. But the sumptuous feast is only a prelude…a way of preparing the ground for a confession of love.

Earlier at the station, Nagisa played dumb when she mentioned how he said she looked weird in a dress, which we know has informed her personal style ever since. But not only does Nagisa remember, but he’s mature enough now to admit why he teased her at the time: because she was too cute, and he was worried someone else would take her away.

No sooner does he say “I love ya” does he stand up and walk out of the apartment, saying he’s leaving on the shinkansen tomorrow. He doesn’t want to pressure her into an answer; a text or call sometime will suffice.

A good word for Hiyori after hearing Nagisa’s confession: befuddled. It never once occured to her that her best friend forever felt…that way. Hell, she never thought anyone would ever say they loved her. Fortunately, she remembers she has two girlfriends and calls them up for their help over hamburgers.

Juri is happy for Hiyori, and when asked, is extremely genuine and eloquent when she tells Hiyori when she started liking the guy who became her bae. He wasn’t even her type at first, but he gradually became so. As for Chizuru, she won’t brook any hesitation on Hiyori’s part: a confession from a hot childhood friend is both a rare treasure and a cliché…and Chizuru has no problem with clichés.

Juri brings things back down to earth a bit, and assures Hiyori that Nagisa is probably just as worried as she is about their relationship possibly changing for the worst. But as he was brave enough to tell her how he really felt, all Hiyori can do is return the favor.

Hiyori may not know what she wants when it comes to romance, but she does know what she doesn’t want: anything that will negatively affect what she’s got going on now: school, track and managing. She’s going all out with all three, and there just isn’t time for romance right now…not until she’s seen those things through.

Nagisa is surely a bit disappointed, but probably also relieved that it’s not a hard no, just a “not just now”. He even admits he jumped the gun. He tussles her hair, tells her she looked good when she dressed up but also thinks she looks good when she’s running around and covered in sweat, which is just beautifully heartwarming. Hiyori thanks Nagisa for telling her how he feels, as it gives her confidence she can become a heroine.

Nagisa tells her the truth: to him she already is one, and always will be. He promises he’ll be back in Tokyo after graduation to take business courses in college and train in restaurants. He’ll be working hard too, and hopefully, they can work hard along side one another soon. Their parting is such sweet sorrow, but they’ll surely remain in each other’s hearts as they go after their dreams with everything they have.

Heroines Run the Show – 06 – From Crap Creeps to Cute Crêpes

If Aizou is out of shampoo, Hiyori has no problem walking into the boy’s shower to get him more. It’s steamy, and it’s not like she’s in there to sneak a peek; she’s just doing her job. She’s been acting more assertively as a manager should, but to these two old-fashioned chums, she couldn’t be acting less like a “girl” if she tried. 

When Tamura gets the three of them tickets for a FT4 show, Hiyori says she’s already going with her childhood friend Nagisa, who is an FT4 superfan. At such an affair it’s expected to “dress up”. The boys want to give her a makeover, but she demurs.

After a day of observing other girls—Hattori, Setoguchi, Narumi—Hiyori encounters perhaps the cutest girl she’s seen of the day, and she’s being harassed by a creep. Hiyori breaks his hold and runs off with the girl, and you know they’ll lose the creep because if anything, Hiyori can run.

I liked the detail of how she’s not the slightest bit out of breath once the coast is clear, while the cutie is huffing and puffing. The girl thanks her by buying her a crepe at a place she’s always wanted to try, but not alone. Before you know it they’re exchanging bites.

When the girl notices she’s staring a bit, Hiyori just mentions how she thinks she’s super cute…a heroine, not an “extra” or “bit player” like her. The girl admits to having also been insecure for a long time due to someone she knew and admired being so pretty. This girl posits that being loved, not cute, is what truly makes a heroine.

She was saved from a creep by Hiyori, and is now having fun eating crepes and talking with her. She likes Hiyori, so maybe she’s a heroine after all! The girl’s name is Narumi Mona and is, unbeknownst to Hiyori, is an up-and-coming idol, and presumably Narumi Sena’s sister.

Their talk inspires Hiyori to try researching some fashion mags, but she’s caught by Yuujirou and Aizou, who demand to know what she’s up to. She tells them how the one time she wore a cute dress and felt like a princess, Nagisa told her she looked “weird”, which led to a complex about looking too “girly”.

The boys say Nagisa sucks, but Hiyori then lists all the ways Nagisa doesn’t such and has always been there for her, especially following her dream of track. The fact remains, in no small part due to Nagisa’s teasing years ago, Hiyori doesn’t think she has what it takes to be a princess.

Yuujirou and Aizou then proceed to show her just how wrong both she and Nagisa are. They take her to their stylist who gives her an adorable new ‘do, then they take her to a classy clothier to try on a number of cozy classic looks.

I love the way the two boys fuss over Hiyori and bicker over the best way to dress her. They come off very much like two doting big brothers trying to make their sister into the princess they know she is…while also showing up the FT4 fan that gave their manager a complex.

After hair and clothes comes makeup and posture, which the boys also take care of back at the studio. It’s very My Fair Lady in the way the two cosmopolitan lads are trying to infuse some Tokyo style into their country bumpkin colleague. Hiyori has to deal with idol super-close-ups when they’re applying the makeup, which is very much a less-is-more affair.

When the time arrives to meet Nagisa at the station, Yuujirou and Aizou accompany Hiyori in her new duds, because they can’t wait to see the look on Nagisa’s face when she sees her. Ah, yes, that’s right…they think her childhood friend Nagisa is a girl. When Hiyori spots Nagisa, whom we’ve known was a boy since the end of last week, she’s so excited she runs as if not wearing a long skirt.

Nagisa catches her before she can touch the ground, and is revealed to the idols as a most strapping young lad…perhaps not as photo shoot worthy as either of them, but certainly handsome and fit nonetheless. He was also unquestionably a typical little boy who teased the girl he liked because he was an idiot.

His first reaction to Yuujirou and Aizou contains multitudes. It’s not (or it’s not just) that he may be irked by the fact Hiyori is hanging around two cute Tokyo boys who must look like nothing but trouble to a hayseed like Nagisa…it might more be the fact that he know’s they’re his beloved FT4’s rivals: LIPxLIP!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 05 – Their Juliet

Hiyori’s foot injury isn’t something that goes away overnight. Like Embiid being out with a fractured orbital, it ruins any chance of coming close to touching her goal. It only takes one race and a few hurdles before her foot barks at her and she’s suddenly washed out of prelims. She got hurt doing a job she took to help pay to live in Tokyo so she could run, and now she can’t run.

It hurts to see our typically chipper chipmunk suddenly brought so low, and struggling to hide it from the ones she cares about. She puts on a brave face for her family over the phone, but I bet her mom can imagine her daughter’s distraught face as she says everything is fine, unconvincingly. She stares at the ceiling at night and almost gets lost up there.

Aizou and Yuujirou have been around Hiyori long enough to know something’s not right, and even come right out and ask her what’s up; why she’s suddenly so much less dashy. As you’d expect, Hiyori doesn’t want to burden them with her troubles when they have a huge concert coming up, so she does her job with a smile. But they know she’s hiding something.

They learn from Uchida how Hiyori’s dream to make the nationals was deferred by her injury, and Aizou remembers when she seemed to look hurt after delivering their swag to the venue. Add to that the fact that this latest show is the last day Hiyori is contracted to work as LIPxLIP’s manager, and there’s a distinct pall over what should be joyful festivities as the duo takes another step forward in their idol careers.

Aizou and Yuujirou decide to do something for Hiyori to cheer her up. They ask her to make sure she finishes all her backstage duties before their scheduled encore, then switch the final song from “Nonfantasy” to “Dream Fanfare”, the lyrics to which almost seem like they were written specifically for Hiyori, the “Julieta” to whom they dedicate the song.

That tribute and the lyrics are not lost on Hiyori, who for thew first time isn’t on the sidelines but has a primo seat in the center of the front row of the second deck. From that vantage point she can’t not realize for the first time the true power of idols, and how they’e not just scary or two-faced, bt truly amazing in what they can do and how they can inspire a crowd.

Despite the song being meant as an encouraging sendoff for Hiyori to commit fuly to her track dreams, it actually inspires her to stay on as their manager-in-training, indefinitely. It’s true, she could dedicate more time to track if she wasn’t working, but Hiyori doesn’t want to compromise…she wants it all. She’s not ready to say goodbye to LIPxLIP, and while they react with characteristic haughty apathy at her announcement, I have no doubt they’re glad she’ll sticking around.

But what’s this? Nagisa is coming to Tokyo? Who’s Nagisa? Hiyori’s would-be fiancé? Maybe! In any case, I can’t wait to see what Hiyori’s iconic eyebrows do when this bumpkin surprise her…not to mention how he and the idols will clash! Until then, this was a beautiful capper to a mini-arc in which Hiyori apparently took too much on and stumbled, only to dust herself off and keep going. Hurdles are meant to be cleared!

Heroines Run the Show – 04 – Two Grooms

Clearly more moved than she expected by their princely defense of her against the vile Yumeru, Hiyori has a dream about marrying Aizou and Yuujirou, and the two of them almost kissing her. Naturally, the first time she sees the two she can’t quite look them in the eye. They seem genuinely miffed by this, as who averts their eyes from an idol? But it’s also because they know something’s up with her.

While Yumeru was thoroughly unpleasant, the result of their collab is a lot more fangirls flocking to the boy’s desks at school. Aizou is so overwhelmed he seemingly passes out, and Yuujirou makes mention of some “trauma” that makes Aizou especially lady-averse. While grabbing lunch for herself and Aizou, she meets his big brother Ken, who assumes Hiyori is Aizou’s GF and explains that both he and their mom are super-comfortable with the opposite sex, which might contribute to the straight-laced Aizou.

Hiyori proves her manager mettle by securing the counseling room for Aizou and Yuujirou to hide out whenever things get too hot. Aizou is clearly still a little off after being so surrounded by fans, and clearly loathing leaving the room to buy lunch, so it’s a good thing Hiyori bought him a cutlet sandwich! Yuujirou shares some of the massive lunch his mom made with Hiyori.

The day somehow gets worse for LIPxLIP when an article comes out exposing Yuujirou as the heir to a famous kabuki actor and living national treasure. Hiyori volunteers to shoo away the reporters, but Yuujirou decides to face and fight them head-on with his famous smile and politeness. Hiyori is literally moved to tears when she watches Aizou come in at just the right time to have his partner’s back.

Yuujirou and Aizou come up with a piece of rosette ribbon swag for their fans at their next outdoor concert, and were clearly inspired by their track-running manager-in-training; a way of making every fan “1st Place in their hearts”. But when it’s time for the show, the staffers forgot the ribbons. No matter, Hiyori uses those track legs to race to the nearest taxi, and when the taxi gets stuck in traffic on the way back, runs the rest of the way and gets the swag there in time for the boys to distribute it.

Yuujirou and Aizou can’t help but be impressed by Hiyori going the extra mile for her. They all exchange “good works” and are ready to part ways, but the boys notice that Hiyori is reacting like she’s in pain. Indeed, she sprained her ankle while racing there in time, and now that her adrenaline levels are dropping, she’s feeling the pain even more. So she’s working so she can run track in Tokyo, but now she can’t run. Hiyori doesn’t deserve such misfortune. Maybe the boys can carry her around like the queen she is on a palanquin until she recovers!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 03 – Princely When it Counts

It was only a matter of time before LIPxLIP warmed up to Hiyori’s wholesome country charm. Yuujirou and Aizou were hostile towards her initially simply because they didn’t know her. That’s rectified by Uchida, who tells Yuujirou (who then tells Aizou) that Hiyori came to Tokyo to run, and took a job to live.

The boys call each other out on being okay with this girl among all the others (in Aizou’s case) and having no qualms about showing his true self (in Yuujirou’s). Knowing how hard she works, they can’t help but show grudging respect; at least from afar.

Closer in, they’re much more comfortable messing with her, though when they learn that she failed her midterms and is desperately crunching for the finals so she can compete in athletics, they eventually close the distance and give her some pointers on what to study for in the little time she has left.

What good boys! And here I was calling them assholes last week. They were, and often still are, but it’s goot to see their sharp edges softening due to Hiyori not only being someone you want to support and protect, but also someone you admire for not giving up no matter how high the hurdles.

Going to school together and working together, these three high school-age people were always going to gradually become friends, I just didn’t expect it to come so fast and yet so organically. But that rapidity is facilitated by a catalyst when the three are on a music video shoot for their song “Nonfantasy”.

Their co-star in the video is the up-and-coming amateur model Yumeru-chan, whom we meet in an elegant red dress. She’s a big fan of LIPxLIP, so when she spots the boys goofing around with Hiyori, she gets right pissed off. She wants to be their clothing tree, dagnabit!

Fishing for juicy rumors and looking to put a rival in their place, Yumeru takes Hiyori aside and asks her straight-up what her relationship to the others is. Hiyori deflects and is clearly uncomfortable, and why wouldn’t she be? This world of desperately beautiful people dressed like royalty isn’t her world; they’re stars, and she’s just a bit player.

And while yes, Yumeru is meant to be more “classically pretty”, Hiyori is a far more beautiful person, because she’s not looking to put others down to lift herself up. She just wants to run, and make her friends and family happy they gave her their support.

During a dinner break, Yuujirou and Aizou laugh when Hiyori’s stomach grumbles, and happily offer her some of what looks like an epic craft services spread. Yumeru, again both mystified and enraged, trips Hiyori while she’s walking away, and coffee spills on her dress. The boys apologize profusely for their “staff member.”

Hiyori hides under the lectern of a wedding chapel, but the boys soon track her down, clearly concerned with her. Yumeru shows up and asks for their numbers, but they don’t give them out; company policy. Then Yumeru spots Hiyori in the shadows and asks why they’re fine with her?

Yumeru has the nerve to warn them that Hiyori may have just taken the job to get closer to them—right after she took this job tried to get closer to them. Aizou—not Yuujirou—drops the idol mask and points out this hypocrisy. Yuujirou then adds that he saw Yumeru trip Hiyori.

When she claims she didn’t, he says they can check the security cameras to be sure. He then praises her fake crying but suggests she doesn’t take up acting as she “lacks imagination” to realize messing with their staff would piss them off. After Yumeru storms off, Aizou tells Yuu he might’ve gone too far, but Yu isn’t concerned. If Yumeru wants to start a shit fight, he can sling it with the best of them.

The bottom line is, the risk of exposing their mean sides was worth it if it meant telling someone that Hiyori may be a somewhat plain, simple country girl staff member, she’s also not someone they’ll tolerate being abused. Yumeru made Hiyori an enemy for no reason, and when the boys saw that, it likely reminded them of their shitty attitudes when Hiyori was first hired, thus compounding their irritation.

I’m happy to report that while they will likely continue to mess with Hiyori because she’s such an easy target, they’re also doing it good-naturedly, because they’ve come to like her, and anyway wouldn’t mess with someone they didn’t. They’re also genuinely concerned about how her exams turns out, and flash their best idol smiles upon learning she barely passed.

The power of those idol smiles is enough  to make even Hiyori blush. After all, even after they took off their prince costumes for the music video, they still looked pretty damn princely to Hiyori, because they defended her against someone who didn’t know her. Now that they do, they’ll slay any dragon for her.

Heroines Run the Show – 02 – Oh My Crêpe!!

At first it looks like CEO Tamura and LIPxLIP manager Uchida have played a cruel prank on an unwitting Hiyori (whom Uchida misnames as “Hiyako”…maybe on purpose?!). Aizou and Yuujirou unleash a barrage of insults on her, but she absorbs them and fires back with some extremely rude and accurate retorts, and all three kids learn why the adults put them together: Hiyako’s got guts, and doesn’t care that they’re idols.

That she’s literally in their class is icing on the cake. In a rather oddly dimly-lit scene where her teacher Akechi-sensei offers her candy (don’t do it Hiyori!) and Hiyori climbs on top of the desk to whisper in his ear (what a dang goof!) she also gets an easy approval of her new job (thanks to Tamura) and also an assurance he’ll keep quiet about it. Hiyori, lovable hayseed that she is, is in awe of what most Tokyo kids would think was a humdrum teacher. He’s there to support her and everyone else in his class and make sure they enjoy their high school life.

She soon learns her job is to further support Aizou and Yuujirou on the idol side of their lives. This means, yes, being a personal assistant to a pair of pretty but ill-mannered cads-and-a-half. We feel every hour of Hiyori’s day that stretches out like the deserts in “Ozymandias”, waking up, studying, running, and then being a human coatrack and vending machine. Still, the pay is good, so while Hiyori hardly sails through her duties she does tough it out with a stiff upper-lip and some lovely withering inner dialogue about how much these two disagreeable fops grind her freakin’ gears.

While the idols suck, Hiyori at least initially isn’t all that good at her job, rendering some of their criticism valid, if indelicately expressed. For one thing, she simply allows girls to swarm the boys during a break, and even gets up to hang out with her friends when Yuujirou artfully reminds her it’s her job to get them out of these situations. That’s when she learns that Aizou is uncomfortable around girls, making him that much more amazing an actor. She knew Yuujirou can be apocalyptically surly, but Aizou confirms that it’s Yuujirou’s normal state.

Even so, Hiyori’s entire life, not even school life, is busied up playing LIPxLIP Service. We watch her steadfast determination to get to the lunch rush early, unto almost breaking the no-running-in-the-halls rule (a truly dastardly and prejudiced rule for, ya know, a runner!). We see her meeting up with Juri, who gives her good advice that nets her her first non-mooched lunch, which she savors accordingly. Then Chizuru casually asks Hiyori what shes been up to, and Hiyori has to lie (badly) because part of her job is keeping her job secret.

We also get a peek at Hiyori’s track life, as her senpai Hina is warm, supported, and extremely protective of her first-year, especially when her friend Koutarou narrowly keeps Hiyori from getting brained by a soccer ball. Hina quickly and expertly extorts free crêpes out of Koutarou, and by doing so inadvertently sparks one of Hiyori’s most heartfelt desires of coming to the big city. Alas, she cannot enjoy crêpes with her senpais … because she has work.

When the boys’ next gig takes them to a podcast recording by Rio and Yui, two members of an established rival idol group AT4, Aizou and Yuujirou play things safe with their sugary smiles and empty platitudes. They’re so perfect and dull that Yui goes off-script and tells them they’re lying about simply wanting to entertain people and make their fans happy. He might be on to something, but Rio stops recording and disciplines Yui. But while he apologizes to Aizou and Yuujirou, he also offers them candid advice: hollow smiles will only get them so far in this business.

Back at school, Hiyori is minding her own business when she hears hollerin’, and spots Aizou and Yuujirou at each others’ throats again. Since Uchida is paying her handsomely even while she’s at school, Hiyori comes between the two. When she stumbles on her landing, the easy play would have been for Hiyori to end up falling onto the boys, but instead she falls into them like a missle, shoving them back. When she warns them that they risk getting suspended, neither seem to care. In fact, attending school was the condition they had to agree upon in order to become idols.

Hiyori, who has always dreamed of going to a big Tokyo school, laments how it hasn’t turned out anything like she expected. That being said, she could quit anytime she wanted; her parents didn’t insist she work to pay for her living expenses (about that: let’s just assume Shibuya is far more affordable in the world of this show, shall we?). But of course, she’s not giving up, no matter how crêpe-deprived she gets.

Back at the studio, Hiyako is put to work sorting a huge box of fan mail and gifts, and she discovers cute hand-made letters from a particular fan, for both the boys and their manager. She delivers it to Uchida, who immediately identifies it as Chutan-san, one of LIPxLIP’s oldest and biggest fans…so big, she writes multi-page letters in perfect 10-point print on custom coorespondence stock for their manager. Inspiring that level passion and devotion is the power of idols, and shows Hiyori that they must have something.

As Hiyori watches the boys sweat, and fight, as they practice choreography in the next room, Uchida tells her that she’s doing fine if they show her their true selves. As to why they’re idols, Uchida tells her all they said at their audition is that they want to be on stage, with no further detail. But by watching them work their asses off in that studio, Hiyori comes to see that bein’ idols means to them what runnin’ means to her. There’s something all three of them want to do, and they’re never going to give up or back down.

Just when Hiyori is having more charitable feelings about the boys do they let her down once more by spurning her peace offering of food and their favorite drinks. But again, they’re quite correct that a manager should be offering water or sports drinks after their practice. So while Aizou and Yuujirou continue to piss Hiyori off, she at least understands them a little better, and appreciates that they’re being their true selves around her.

As for her true self…Suzumi Hiyori looks like a shoo-in for Best Girl of the Season. While I understand totally if her squeaky voice isn’t everyone’s cup of matcha, anyone who doesn’t want to protect her with their life might just be The Grinch. Just two episodes in and I’m completely in love with both her and her show, which as the title confirms, she runs.

Heroines Run the Show – 01 – (First Impressions) – Clearing Every Hurdle

Who doesn’t love can-do country bumpkins? I for one can’t help but be endlessly charmed by them as I vicariously watch them navigate the Big City for the first time, full of gumption and moxie. Suzumi Hiyori is a bushy-eybrowed ball of energy brought to life by the ubiquitous Minase Inori (though if you’re not a fan of her louder, higher-pitched characters, you probably won’t enjoy this).

Her little hometown high school doesn’t have a track team, but Hiyori wants to one day be a national finalist, so to Tokyo she goes, with the full support of her huge and adorable family. Little did she know that she’d end up seated between the two ruinously popular male idols Shibasaki Aizou and Someya Yuujirou. Most of the other girls in her class swoon over them, but she experiences them with their nice faces off, and is t barely-concealed concept for each other.

While searching for the front gate of her massive (for her) new school, she overhears a heated argument, and finds Aizou taking Yuujirou by the scruff. She tries to play peacemaker, but only ends up soaking the three of them by stepping on a high-pressure hose. She says classmates shouldn’t fight; they tell her to stay away from her…but she sits between them, she she can’t!

Fortunately, Hiyori makes fast friends with two other girls in her class: the slightly gyaru-y Hattori Juri (Sakura Ayane) and the more reserved, bespectacled Nakamura Chizuru (Hayami Saori). Together, these three are among my favorite seiyuu, and combined with Uchiyama Kouki and Shimazaki Nobunaga, we’ve got ourselves an all-star cast.

In one of the more touching scenes of the episode, Hiyori is on the call with her mom, and learns her dad, a fisherman, hurt his back and may be laid up for a bit. With four younger siblings, she worries she’s being a financial burden for her family by going to school in Tokyo. Her mom says it will be fine, but Hiyori takes another bold step into adulthood by deciding to get a part-time job to pay her living expenses.

Her first round of interviews don’t go well, as her already busy high school and track schedule simply does not mesh with your typical restaurant or café work schedule. But she ends up hitting paydirt with a 1500 yen/hr (or $12/hr, not chump change for a high schooler) opportunity, and after some early nerves, manages to make a strong case for herself as someone who will overcome any obstacle and get the job done.

While Hiyori is one of dozens of applicants, the clincher for her recruiter Uchida (not Maaya) is that she’s in the same class as the idol duo LIPxLIP, AKA Aizou and Yuujirou, which makes her the perfect fitr for their new rookie manager-in-training. Both she and the boys are taken completely by surprise with this development, and I doubt any of them are happy with it.

But hey, Hiyori did say she’d leap over any hurdle to service of her dream, didn’t she? She’ll never make the nationals if the hurdles are only a foot tall! Uchida did her a big favor, giving her a foot in the door of a hugely popular enterprise and giving her a personal and professional challenge. If she’s to be their manager, they’ll all have to get to know and learn to trust each other. I can’t wait to see how it goes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Princess Connect! Re:Dive – S2 02 – Smiles and Shadows

Last week showed off Priconne’s impressive aural, visual, and comic chops when it comes to epic fantasy adventure, along with the sweet, lived-in chemistry of the main quartet. But I count myself among the many who were surprised without strong its dramatic chops could be. Last week we only got a slight glimpse of that as Pecorine looked at the palace where she should rightfully rule.

But this week is all about Karyl and her unique position in the Gourmet Guild as a spy and “princess knight” with divided loyalties. Her small act of rebellion against her majesty is forgiven, but with that clemency comes the threat that it better not happen again. And so just like last season, Karyl is torn between her love of her guild-mates and doing her royal duty.

Speaking of royals, Pecorine’s longing look at the palace is followed up upon this week when Kokkoro mentions that Peco still hasn’t told Karyl or Yuuki about her true identity. While she can’t do anything about Kokkoro knowing, she’s not ready to tell the others.

Peco asks Kokkoro to keep the secret a little while longer so she can tell them herself when the time is right. For now, as long as she’s able to keep the people of Landosol safe and smiles on their faces, she’s mostly content to maintain the status quo.

Both Peco and Karyl’s internal strife is briefly soothed by a visit to the clothing store owned by Carmina, a three-member idol group that sings, dances, and fights to put smiles on the faces of their fans. Their goals are thus aligned with Pecorine’s and the Gourmet Guilds.

This act introduces Tsumugi, Nozomi, and Chika, and also provides an opportunity to dress everyone (including Yuuki) like cute idols. To the show’s credit, however, our Gourmet Guilders’s idol cosplay doesn’t extend to actually taking the stage; that’s left to the professional performers.

When everyone is getting a good night’s sleep before Carmina’s next big concert (Yuuki having been warmly initiated as an official member of the Carmina Fan Club), Karyl slips out on her own as she tends to do. In the palace she meets Christina, who relays to her a mission for the two of them involving Shadows.

Before heading home, Karyl sits on a vantage point offering a gorgeous nighttime vista of the city…including the outdoor concert venue, where Karyl finds Tsumugi rehearsing on her own. When asks why she’s up so late without the others, Tsumugi says she doesn’t have the natural talent of Nozomi or Chika, but still wants to help them shine, hence the outfits and extra practice.

The big day of the concert arrives, and Karyl heads off on her own, telling the others she has something she needs to do. That something turns out to be fighting off all of the stray Shadows in the nearby woods that Carmina’s performances (and the crowds they bring) seem to lure out of their hiding spots.

There’s a contrast between Karyl and Christina’s “dirty work” in and with the shadows while Carmina shines brighter than ever on stage and make everyone who showed up to the concert smile. While the crowds are CGI, the three idols are smoothly animated in 2D; it’s a very nice-looking concert.

After her shadow-hunting duties are complete, Karyl is so physically and emotionally drained, she’s ready to pass out under a bridge in the dark. But her three guildmates, feeling it not proper to start dinner without their fourth member, head back into town to look for her, calling her name until she finally emerges.

Karyl tells the others their calling her name embarrassing her, but you can see in her wonderfully subtle facial expressions that she was also extremely happy they came out looking for her. It might mean there are no easy answers for her

Karyl’s problems aren’t solved this week, nor should they have been. I’m hoping that sometime before this season ends she’ll be able to pick a side and find happiness and peace—and hopefully it’s the Gourmet Guild’s side—but that’s far from certain right now. Even so, all Priconne, Peco, and Karyl can do is take things one day, and one family meal, at a time.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. The OP is back, and the same theme song is used as last season…which is just fine with me! If it ain’t broke…Having recently watched Twin Peaks: The Return, I’m struck by how similar Yuuki is to Coop-as-Dougie Jones…The new ED is a stunningly beautiful sequence of Kokkoro staying up late looking at photos from the guild album, followed by Peco and Karyl putting a blanket over her when she nods off, then Yuuki putting a blanket on all three of them. So simple, and yet so full of heart-bursting love…

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