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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 06 – Hearts Racing Together

One morning, Akari is acting like a caring, loving wife, the kind that is again propelling her and Jirou into the top of the practical rankings (which are a thing I find myself caring less and less about as the show goes on). The only thing that gives Jirou pause is the fact that Akari keeps calling him by his last name, even seemingly accentuating the “Yakuin”.

Jirou doesn’t know why, but it bothers him, and he even googles “why is a girlfriend suddenly calling you by your last name”. Seems like a step backwards, or some kind of message, right? Then Jirou and Sadaharu happen to witness Hamano Mei rejecting female kohai who just confessed her love for her.

Aside from it being a magnificently gay scene I was waiting for, Mei demonstrates that she’s very good at the gentle turn-down, and I have no reason to doubt she truly is happy that this girl fell for her, even if she can’t return the feelings. Mei also bears part of the burden for not “being mindful enough to notice” the girl’s feelings, then indulges her with a warm embrace and calls her by her first name.

Jirou wants to notice what’s causing Akari to use his last name, so that already shows he’s being mindful. He’s a good kid, thinking about how she feels! When he’s about to shower, Akari barges in with the rankings on her phone: they’re now in eighth place, and she hugs him while he’s shirtless, which is a first.

Later, she helps him dry his hair—which he washed with a shampoo she chose for both of them. When she hits the hair dryer, Jirou says her first name, then again. The third time he says it is when she switches it off, and she hears it, and calls him Jirou in turn. Now he gets it: she simply wanted him to call her Akari first. She says its for the benefit of their artificial marriage, but it’s clear him calling her Akari makes her blush every time.

While Jirou figured out this little mini-mystery of how he and Akari address one another, he’s still largely in the dark about Shiori’s true feelings. In that regard, his lack of mindfulness stems from her years-old friendzoning of him, which he felt at the time meant that was that and there were lines beyond childhood friendship she’d rather not cross.

But that was then, and Shiori regretted it then and has yet to resolve matters. In this, her best friend Mei most likely subordinated her own unrequited romantic feelings for Shiori in order to ensure she’s happy, by doing everything possible to bring her and Jirou together. She makes it clear if Shiori isn’t more aggressive in letting Jirou know her feelings, Akari (or some other girl) will beat her to the punch.

When Shiori gets hit in the head by an errant football, Mei sends her to the nurses office and promises to send Jirou there, where it’s clear she wants Shiori to do what she couldn’t do during their shared classroom duties. When Jirou hesitates, Mei verbally kicks him in the butt to get in there and see Shiori already.

But while Mei can’t understand why her Shiori loves a “coward” like Jirou, she’s missing the fact that Shiori’s been a coward too! Coward is probably too strong a term; more like stubborn in their shared belief that the other isn’t interested despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

When Jirou visits the nurse’s office to see Shiori, the two find themselves all alone in the dark. They exchange some awkward small talk, Jirou notices that Minami brought her a sandwich and sports drink before he did (though Mei gave him his). Shiori mentions how well Jirou and Akari are doing, he says they still fight a lot, and Shiori remarks how she’d like to see Jirou angry sometime. That is to say, she wants to know more about him beyond the childhood friend.

She also makes it clear when Jirou brings up making romantic progress that she and Minami have done no such thing, and that furthermore, even if it was with someone she liked, she’d worry about being too nervous and inexperienced. This must feel to Jirou like a comfortable mirror.

Shiori makes another blunder by saying she wants to “practice” kissing with Jirou, which suggests she’d rather kiss someone else “for real”, but Jirou, who had just gotten a talking-to from Mei to “go for it”, agrees and leans in to kiss Shiori.

At the very last second Shiori hesitates again, which happens before Akari’s gyaru-friend Sachi comes in to skip class, hears the bed creaking, and sees boy’s and girl’s shoes through the gap in the curtain. Sachi is scandalized and makes a quick exit, but her entrance caused Jirou to slip and fall … right onto Shiori and her lips.

Accident or not, the two have finally kissed, and it was so unexpected and so … so much for both of them they basically short-circuit in unison and agree to part ways for the time being. I feel so bad for both Mei and Akari, as these two are—and I can’t stress this enough—the fucking worst.

I mean everyone has their pace that they must follow (I think about Chuu2Koi handled this quite well). But you don’t have to jump each other’s bones; you can use their words and clear all this up! Say you like him! Say you like her! Boom! But they don’t.

All throughout this time, Akari has been trying to get ahold of Jirou, but he’s ignored her last four texts. Then Sachi shows up and tells her what went down in the nurse’s office, and right after hearing this Akari gets a text from Jirou saying he was in the nurse’s office. Naturally, her thoughts go straight to Shiori.

I continue to feel so bad for Akari. I’m sure Minami is a nice guy, but she doesn’t really know him. She does know Jirou a lot more, and is developing feelings for him that are quickly replacing the more shallow attraction nad idolization for Minami. Also, I doubt Minami is any more interested in her than he is Shiori.

And hey, what do you know, Akari is so preoccupied with Jirou that she doesn’t even notice Minami served her that drink! I am HERE for the Minami erasure. We’re in episode six. If we go another six without him so much as uttering a line, I’ll be perfectly content.

What we have here, then, is a love triangle. And with her assumption Jirou went and did something with Shiori in the nurse’s office, Akari is understandably lonely and depressed. It doesn’t help matters that her gyaru-friends stand her up at the café, though Minami gives her some free extra whipped cream and a note to cheer her up (though again, you get the impression he’d do this with anyone).

When she comes home late, Jirou is passed out on the couch. Akari sees the chocolates and deduces he waited for her. She doesn’t check her phone and see the text warning that the chocolates contained whiskey. She does unfold the couch (which of course becomes a bed), disrobe and curl up next to the dozing Jirou, asking him if this is what he did with Shiori, or did they take things even further.

What’s so heartbreaking is that Akari isn’t mad that Jirou might’ve slept with Shiori. After all, who wouldn’t want to have their first time be with someone so clearly important to them? Even more heartbreaking? Lines like “Did you go off and become an adult without me?” and “Don’t leave me behind,” and “I’ll cheer on in your love … but just for now, while I’m your wife, could you wait?” Just one dagger after the other.

Jirou regains consciousness from his inadvertent choco-bender very confused Akari is sleeping beside him in her underwear. When he asks what happened, Akari teases him for forgetting what happened … for forgetting what he did to her. She then asks “was last night your first time?” to which he answers yes, because he assumes she means the two of them.

When he proceeds to apologize if he didn’t perform to her standards and such, she admits she was lying, they didn’t do it. When Jirou is a bit too emphatic in his relief, since it means he’s still a virgin, Akari is miffed. I’m not sure he meant to imply he’s glad he didn’t lose it to her because he’d rather lose it to Shiori (I think he’s just glad he didn’t pop his cherry and not remember it)—but that’s how she interprets it.

It sucks that this is how the episode, and the first half of the season, wraps up: with another misunderstanding. But even if Jirou picks up on what Akari is mad and is able to smooth things over, the underlying triangle remains. While Shiori did stop them from kissing for real, they did lock lips, and once she and Jirou fully process that, that dance will continue. And this conflict will surely drive the second half.

Could Akari be clearer about how she’s acting toward Jirou is less about being a great pretend wife for the sake of getting Minami and more about legitimate feelings for him? Sure! Could Shiori, for the benefit of both Akari and the long-suffering Mei, please kindly shit or get off the pot? Perhaps! But Jirou can also keep being as mindful as he can be. As long as he’s wracking his brain, there’s potential for progress on all fronts. Whatever happens, I’m loving these characters, and this show.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 02 – Hearing her out to the end

Jirou is having a lovely dream about Shiori visiting him in the night, only to be woken up by Akari wanting the same thing. Not so fast: she wants him to watch scary movies with her so they’ll earn points—while wearing matching PJs she’s comfortable enough to change into with him right there (with his back turned). When there’s a blackout, Jirou also learns Akari’s not great with storms or the dark.

Jirou may not learn here that Akari’s as inexperienced in love as he is, but her little vulnerabilities help bring her down to earth, as someone more approaching an equal to Jirou rather than someone to place on a pedestal and venerate (or resent her elite gyaru status). Between the close quarters and a sweet-smelling aromatherapy candle, a cozy chemistry emerges, with Jirou even admitting how cute Akari is and how hard she’s working, thinking she’s asleep when she’s not…and is very flattered!

As a result of spending the night together on the couch (avoiding the no-going-in-each-other’s-rooms rule) Jirou and Akari earn enough points to end up ranked 8th in their class. But both are shocked to find that Shiori and Minami are ranked 71st. If the other couple doesn’t make Rank A, all their efforts are for naught.

While Jirou can’t deny he’s a little happy things aren’t going well with Shiroi and Minami, as he friend he wants to help, but can’t broach the subject, and then he’s out with a cold. Shiori’s best friend Mei, who is either overprotective or has a crush on her herself (maybe both!) cheers Shiori up with her piano play and a willing ear.

Just as Jirou admits to be being a little hurt Akari went out with her friends instead of taking care of him, while also dreaming of Shiori taking care of him, it’s Shiori who is at the door with a bag of stuff to nurse him back to health.

Rather than an angel sent by heaven, Shiori was asked by Akari to look after Jirou, both knowing Jirou is in love with her and that, most likely, Shiori feels the same way. I’m not sure how premeditated this was for Akari, but this results in us getting almost the full measure of Jirou and Shiori’s history together.

Shiori still cherishes the day she was sick in elementary school and Jirou came and replaced her forehead compress, and relishes the opportunity to repay the favor. Jirou also watches intently as Shiori puts on an apron like a pro to whip up some rice porridge for him.

He’s worried this sudden wife-like attention will “give him the wrong idea”, but he’s had that ever since they parted ways when she had to transfer schools in middle school. Before he could summon the courage to confess to her, she asked him if they could remain friends despite the new geographic distance.

Jirou thought he was being friendzoned, so he canceled the confession, but he was mistaken. Just as he needed to make a great effort to even consider voicing his feelings for her, so too did Shiori, and those were the compromised words that came out at the wrong time. These two have loved each other all along, but that misunderstanding kept them from getting what they both wanted.

Now they’re “married” to separate people for this ridiculous school training, but Jirou’s cold afforded them the chance to live out what life might’ve been like if they had gotten their confessions for each other out into the open. It broke my heart when Shiori’s voice broke after she said, quite genuinely, that she thought it would be better if he were her husband. But my heart was re-forged when Jirou took her hand and, without thinking, called her “Shiori”, which causes her heart to similarly swell.

Shiori remembers that day just as much as Jirou does as a missed opportunity. Shiori was mere words from asking him on a date to see fireworks, but since he believed that would be as “just friends” he made an excuse to part ways right then and there. When Jirou called her “Shiori”, her mind went blank from happiness.

Not only that, when she’s sure he’s asleep, she leans in to steal a kiss…just as Akari’s galfriends are teasing her about the possibility of Shiori stealing Minami away. Shiori doesn’t kiss Jirou, but still prays that one day he’ll hear her out to the end. If only he did, he’d know that she wanted to be with him as much as he wanted to be with her.

The thing is, things are no longer so simple. Despite her haughty gal front and enduring crush on Minami, the fact is Jirou is the one with whom she’s experiencing all these new things. It’s gotten to the point that even when Jirou thanks her when she gets home for asking Shiori to come by, and resolves to work his hardest so she can be with Minami, she’s actually annoyed, despite herself.

Shiori isn’t going to be falling for Minami anytime soon. Maybe we’ll get Minami-centric episode at some point, but for now he’s simply a placeholder. Ironically, the harder Jirou and Akari work to make Rank A, the more good times they’ll have and the more they’ll learn about each other that overwrites their shallow first impressions of one another. By the time they’re offered the opportunity to exchange partners, who’s to say they’ll want to?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Love After World Domination – 10 – An Invincible Couple

LWD did a beach episode, so you knew at some point they were probably going to put their hero/villain spin on the school festival episode. Desumi really wants Fudou to come on the third and final day, because that’s when a traditional moon sculpture is unveiled. Couples photographed at that moon will become “invincible.”

Fudou and Desumi know it won’t be easy for the two of them to pull something like that off at a busy festival, but Fudou didn’t expect his comrade Hayato (AKA Blue Gelato) to catch wind of him going to a festival and make him his horse for the day. Meanwhile Desumi has to deal with Anna’s aggressive advances.

This is the high school Kiki and Kyouko (Beast and Steel) attend, but while the latter brings Culverin Bear as her date, as disciplinary officer Kiki is fixated on breaking up lovey-dovey couples.

The lovey-dovey-est of them all are our protagonists, who finally manage to get some alone time in a haunted house, only to be found out by Kiki (who luckily doesn’t recognize her comrade in the darkness).

That said, Desumi ends up right back in Anna’s clutches, while Hayato once again mounts Fudou as if he were a conveyance. If the couple has any chance of getting to the moon sculpture, they’ve gotta shake off these pests.

While the animation of this episode is spotty at best, it kicks into high gear when it counts, like during Anna and Desumi’s high speed chase through the halls. Desumi seeks refuge in the nurses office, where Blood Princess happens to be on duty.

Having bought a little time, Desumi tracks down Fudou, only to find him being used as a horse for Hayato. She can’t very well just stride up to Blue Gelato, but nor can she do nothing with her sweetheart in peril.

Fortunately, Hayato spots Kiki, whom he recognizes at the beach, and they engage in their own breathless chase through the school. This leaves our couple alone again at last, but with the minutes dwindling to get their photo, they’re not sure how to pull it off, considering how recognizable Fudou is as Red Gelato.

Finally, their surroundings tell them what to do. The school is lousy with cosplayers—Kyouko even lost Culverin and ended up with a guy in a bear suit—so they decide to transform into Red Gelato and Reaper Princess…a “fanfic” pairing if ever there was one, but an effective one.

Rather than suspect them of being the real thing, the other students simply chalk it up to amazing cosplay craftsmanship and attention to detail. Desumi and Fudou get their snapshot at the moon sculpture, and with it verification that they are an invincible couple that can accomplish anything together.

That being said, they would have been that even if they hadn’t gotten their picture taken; these crazy kids don’t need their love propped up by legends. Kiki prevails over Hayato, Anna and Blood Princess rest one one another’s back after a great fight, and Kyouko introduces the fake bear guy to her bear guy. All’s well that ends well at the festival.

Love After World Domination – 09 – Become Strong, Then Fall in Love

One minute you’re alone with your girlfriend in her dorm, the next, you’re staring down her eccentric, fanatical father and taciturn yet hostile little sister. The latter, Magahara Urami, is basically the protagonist of this episode, and she’s in crisis.

This…man, who is dressed as a common Gekko foot solider, seems to have turned her invincible sister into a weak, girly softie. The main flaw with Urami’s position is that she couldn’t be more wrong, but she has to learn that the hard way.

When Fudou, who makes up the fake name Mudou, assures Desumi’s dad that she only turned down the monster promotion after careful consideration, then insists he allow Desumi to attend college, both Urami and Pops are furious that an “outsider” is interfering in family matters.

Pops even starts a fight with Fudou, and demonstrates his carefully-honed “Art of Defeat”; i.e. the most stylish way of taking a hit. Pops leaves impressed with Fudou’s devotion to a cause and will table the university discussion, and Desumi sees him off with a smile.

Urami spends the night, presumably hiding in the closet from a big sister she no longer recognizes, thanks to “Mudou” “ruining” her. Growing up, Urami’s problems with communicating and resting emo face made her an easy target for bullies, all of whom were obliterated by Desumi. It’s no surprise Urami developed a sister complex.

When the sisters visit Gekko’s HQ and Desumi receives a royal greeting befitting her rank, Urami briefly believes that the badass sister she knows is still in there…only for Desumi to scold the foot soldiers for going out of their way, and get upset they don’t notice her new (adorable) hairdo. Urami is in awe of HQ and particularly Desumi’s co-workers and superiors, but Desumi would rather go shopping with her in Harajuku.

Urami is beside herself with frustration…how could the sister she loved and idolize become thus? She storms off in a huff and sulks in a dark alley, where she’s cornered by three lunkheads who aren’t at all concerned with age limits. She’s about to clobber them, but when they call her an “emo kid” like the bullies of her past and present, she freezes up.

That’s when Desumi appears, two delectable crepes in hand, and ignores the dopes entirely. When they warn her that they’re “bad guys”, Desumi puts on her game face and ethers all three of them so easily the show doesn’t bother showing the carnage, only the aftermath. Urami may think Desumi has “gone soft”, but the fact of the matter is she’s as strong as she’s ever been.

She realizes she once told Urami that one must become strong to survive, but now that she’s older she knows that’s not enough. If you want to survive and thrive, you have to fall in love. Urami returns home wearing the hairband her sister bought her. She hated the new version of her big sister at first, but having seen that she dole out carnage and be cute at the same time, maybe this new Desumi isn’t so bad after all.

“Mudou”, on the other hand, will be the first to be purged when she rises up in Gekko.

Love After World Domination – 08 – The Heat Is On

Fudou and Desumi have a problem: someone not named Haru knows about them and, unlike Haru, is not rooting for them. I thought that someone might be Misaki, judging from that tiny glimpse last week. But when we’re introduced to Desumi’s gyaru classmate Houjou, it’s clear who the true culprit is.

Fudou meets her at the park, where Houjou proceeds to try and utterly fail to blackmail him in various ways. She threatens to make the photo public; he’s fine with that as long as she blacks out Desumi’s face. She tells him to break up with her; he refuses. She tells him to say he loves her; he won’t. She tries to get him to kiss his hand, only to pull it back, unable to go through with it herself.

At their next clandestine meet-up, Fudou tells Desumi the situation, and while her first impulse is to “silence” the girl “permanently”, she thinks she knows what’s going on: this girl must be in love. Fudou promises Desumi that she doesn’t have to worry, and that he’ll handle it.

At their next meeting, Fudou politely but firmly acknowledges the girl’s feelings for him and expresses his gratitude for them, but before he can turn her down, she clears up a misunderstanding: she’s in love with Desumi, not him.

Ostracized at school for her personal style and a false rep for looseness, Desumi was the only one to approach and befriend her. Houjou inspired Desumi to do her nails. Oh yeah, and she’s been under Desumi’s nose all along as Gekko’s own Princess Heat!

Houjou Anna is a solid addition to the quirky cast and Sakura Ayane brings plenty of sassy vim and vigor to the role. It’s a shame she’s not in the remainder of the episode, but in her place is Haru, whom we learn isn’t the best at school and needs help studying for the finals. Desumi also confesses to being bad at studies, so the two of them and Fudou decide to have a study session.

The smart and obvious choice of venue for said session would be a neutral location, such as a library, but instead Desumi has Fudou and Haru dress up like Gekko minions (who all have an identical build) and sneak into her room. But once there, Fudou and Haru soon discover Desumi’s perfect test scores. Turns out Desumi isn’t bad at school and just didn’t want to be left out.

One would think that having two school-smart people tutor her would be a boon for Haru, but it turns out both Fudou and Desumi suck at teaching in different ways. Haru tries to put everything in the context of musculature, while Desumi is all about meaningless motivational slogans. Haru takes her leave, confident that studying alone would serve her better than remaining with these two kooky lovebirds.

Haru leaving means Fudou is alone in his girlfriend’s bedroom for the first time, and I love how he just lets it wash over him. Desumi, on the other hand, is distracted by Haru mentioning universities. Fudou tells Desumi his goal is to go on to university and study education so he can teach elementary school.

Desumi has no such long term goals other than wanting to remain by Fudou’s side…even if her dad expects her to work at Gekko full time after high school. Speaking of Desumi’s dad, both he and Desumi’s little sister arrive at her door quite unexpectedly, leaving Fudou trapped and with very few viable hiding spots, considering his build. Will next week be a “meet her family” scenario?

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.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 05 – River Dance

Exams are over and summer break is here, so the gang takes the train to the river for a day of sun and fun…but not too much sun, since they don’t want their boy Izumi to die. Shikimori and Izumi are their cute selves throughout, while Neko and Inu continue to put out good vibes with the ever-sardonic Hachimitsu in the center.

The quintet preps food for some barbecue, and everyone is shocked by Izumi’s impressive knife skills. When Shikimori makes some ajillo (Spanish garlic shrimp) just for her him, Izumi learns she’s not perfect at everything … but he still eats as much as he can like a good bae because he knows how much heart she put into it.

After Izumi makes everyone S’mores the gang hits the river…though Shikimori briefly holds Izumi back to say they should have them again just the two of them some time. They test the water, which is nice and cool, then Shikimori lets Izumi out of her sight for just a moment, during which time he rescues a little girl being carried off by the current.

Once the girl is safe, Izumi’s foot cramps up, and then he is carried away. Shikimori spots him, and while everyone else panics she dives straight into the water and fishes him out. She’s furious he didn’t call for him to help, but can’t stay mad at him considering he may have saved a little girl’s life, for which she later thanks him with a kiss on the cheek.

Despite the girl being in grade school, Shikimori is still jealous, so when the gang gets gelato, she makes sure she at least gets an indirect kiss when Izumi tastes her cone. She’s about to taste his when Inu comes out of nowhere and gobbles it up. She in turn houses his gelato, and then gets horrible brain freeze, yet still claims victory in her agony.

On the train ride home, one by one everyone falls asleep…except for Izumi. Even Shikimori nods off and rests her head on his shoulder. Izumi reflects on how much fun he had, specifically because he was with Shikimori his friends. He doesn’t take any of it for granted. And when he nods off and Shikimori comes to, she places his head on her shoulder.

Aside from the near-drowning, it was just about as a perfect day by the river as the gang could ask for. Watching them goofing off, having fun, and being just great kids in general really brings all the warm feels.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 04 – Anywhere is Fine

Izumi, always sensitive to the heat and sun, is struggling on the roof where his friends have gathered to discuss plans for summer break. Not only do I salute these kids for being on top of things—how many times are anime are summer breaks wasted due to lack of communication? Enter Shikimori, who surprises him by touching his face with a cold sports drink.

Hachimitsu also offers him some space under her parasol. This notably doesn’t worry Shikimori, as “it’s just Hachimitsu”, i.e. not someone trying to steal her Izumi! As for where they’re going for break, they decide on the river, as the beach would prove too much for Izumi. They make it clear they’re not compromising on his account; they want to go somewhere where everyone will have fun.

Nekozaki Kyou, the energetic heart of the friend group whom I find myself loving more and more as the series progresses, decides that despite it just being the river, everyone should wear swimsuits. So instead of studying for upcoming final exams, she brings everyone out shopping. When Izumi says he probably won’t be swimming, she says she’s fine not buying a swimsuit.

…That is until she spots Izumi gazing a tad too intently on a poster of a swimsuit model in a skimpy black bikini. While Izumi is simply admiring her muscles (confirming that Izumi has a type) Shikimori races to the swimsuit store and finds the same bikini…but is hesitant to purchase it. Nekozaki seconds that, and assure her she and Hachimitsu will find her one that suits her.

Nekozaki can tlel when Shikimori’s fiery competitive spirit and hatred of losing rears its head; it’s what ended up being the icing on the cake for why she made it a point to become friends with Shikimori. She already had a girl-crush on her for being her idea of a perfect, pure, ideal woman, and then they played one hell of a passionate basketball game, and Nekozaki simply couldn’t stay on the friendship sideline a second longer.

I’m of the mind that Nekozaki is selling herself far too short, and that Inuzuka would be lucky to have her as a girlfriend. I know “Inu”zuka and “Neko”zaki indicate an incompatible dynamic (cats and dogs, oil and vinegar), I think if they’re honest with each other they’d make a good couple. Their sniping at each other feels like a practiced act.

Once the girls rejoin the guys in the food court, Izumi notices how excited Shikimori looks and asks her what she bought. When Shikimori says nothing, he knows she’s lying. Nekozaki saw Shikimori have Izumi in the palm of her hand earlier, but here the tides have turned; there are plenty times when she’s in his palm. It’s why they work so well as a couple.

The first day of finals arrives, and Izumi has a particularly cursed day, even for him; ending with Shikimori is pulling him away from an angry (tiny) dog (shades of the excellent video gamey ED). Later, Izumi is lamenting being unable to study properly when Shikimori gives him a call simply to hear his voice.

Night calls between girlfriend and boyfriend are often veritable fonts of big time feels, but this scene is the cream of the crop. The two sitting in their rooms in the dark, connected by the starry night sky. Izumi tells her about his love of the stars, but how he never got a chance to stargaze as a kid due to it always being cloudy when he wanted to.

When Shikimori assures him she’ll take him somewhere to see the stars, Izumi brings up the fact she lobbied for them to go to the river rather than the beach, and states his desire to take her somewhere she wants to go. The thing is, Shikimori is fine with anywhere as long as he’s there.

The two spout so many sweet somethings to each other, and they both want to desperately see each other’s faces—completely forgetting the fact that video calls are a thing. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most adorable and heartwarming moments yet between these two desperately beautiful, loving souls.

In the after-credit omake, Shikimori is at a cooking class with Izumi’s beautiful but accident-prone mom. She’s naturally nervous around Izumi’s mom, considering looks-and-kindness-wise she’s basically an older female version Izumi.

As such, the scene is humming with romantic tension, especially when Izumi’s trips while bringing Shikimori a left-handed knife, and Shikimori catches the knife with one hand and Izumi’s mom with the other. If mama didn’t already know Shikimori is far more than just a cutie, she sure as heck knows now!

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 01 (First Impressions) – My Shield and Defender

So many rom-coms play will-they-won’t-they for the entire season (or three!) before the couple officially exchanges confessions or starts dating, making shows like this almost a novelty. Izumi Yuu and Shikimori Micchon are already an established couple out of the gate. Izumi is an incredibly unlucky and accident-prone fellow, but Shikimori is up to the task of protecting him—and flashing a “cool, dark side” while doing it.

Izumi has a touch of that urge to protect rather than be protected, but circumstances never turn out that way, so he takes it in stride, just as Shikimori takes the occasional chalkboard eraser to the head in defense of her beloved. When she overhears other boys wonder out loud why she’s with someone so dull, she makes sure they know she overheard and isn’t happy about it.

The show has a nice compact core of five friends: our couple, Hachimitsu, Nekozaki, and Inuzuka, the latter two seem like a potential second couple-in-the-works. Notably, while Izumi is always in danger of tripping on a rock or getting hit by some flying projectile, he’s never in danger of losing Shikimori, or her devotion to him.

While Izumi occasionally wishes he could do more for Shikimori, he’s never in doubt about how cute she is, and how it’s even more exciting when she flashes her cool side. For her part, Shikimori wants to be thought of as cute above all, but that doesn’t stop her from going all out when the friends go bowling, resulting in a perfect game.

On the way home, the largest and most dangerous threat to Izumi’s person comes in the form of a hanging sign. Izumi whining about how he “feels pathetic” when she “has to” protect him all the time, but she kicks the sign out of the way, along with his misconceptions about the balance of their relationship.

Taking his hand and making a face that is equal parts cool and cute, she makes clear all he needs to do for her is stay by her side. She doesn’t care what people say, and doesn’t want Izumi to care either. It’s none of their business why she loves Izumi, nor is it their responsibility to decide who is most deserving of her affections.

With its seemingly grossly unbalanced couple, this show subtly encourages us to challenge established ideas about the transactional nature of relationships. As Shikimori says, it’s enough for Izumi to be by her side. It’s her choice to determine the value of that; no one else’s—even Izumi’s. He may be unlucky in the pratfall department, but he’s extremely lucky in the romantic one.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

P.S. They really went the extra mile with the orthogonal video game-style ED in which Shikimori protects Izumi from an increasingly ridiculous volume of threats!

To Your Eternity – 19 – Killing With Kindness

We begin the penultimate episode of To Your Eternity with Hayase…doing a good deed?! That’s right, she’s using her not inconsiderable combat prowess to defeat the Nokker Zombies before they can kill innocent men, women or children. When a Nokker tries to infect her, she flexes—both literally and figuratively.

The Nokker stops in Hayase’s arm and seems to listen when she tells it that appearing before Hoshi in such a gross, unpleasant form is Doing It All Wrong; if it wants Fushi as she does, it will have to treat it with kindness. Their little confab is broken up when Oniguma!Fushi steps on Hayase…but once again stops short of killing her.

While Fushi doesn’t kill her, he’ll wish he had restrained her in some way before the day is out. Perhaps he’s distracted by the fact Tonari and Sander are in mortal danger. He bails them out of a bad way by using his Gugu form to burn the entire corpse pit. But while the bulk of the immediate Nokker threat is neutralized in those flames, his Creator tells him three Nokkers still remain on the island.

Those Nokkers were once Oopa, Uroy, and Mia, but you can’t really say it’s them anymore, as we already saw them chilling in Paradise last week. Nevertheless, it won’t be easy for Fushi to put their overthrown bodies out of their misery.

That’s when Hayase, who as I said wasn’t sufficiently neutralized, scoops up both Tonari and Sander, drugs them both, and threatens to toss them into the flaming corpse pit…unless Fushi accepts her offer. You see, she wants to keep him “clean” and “pure” as a being who can neither kill nor be killed. She’ll gladly kill and sully herself for him.

But Hayase never picked up on the fact that her go-to sedative doesn’t work on Tonari for long, and Tonari decides to pull Hayase down into the flames with her. With three of her friends dead and what she perceives as a lifetime of missteps to answer for, ridding Fushi of his greatest adversary in exchange for her life seems like a square deal.

Fushi disagrees, swooping out to save both Tonari and Hayase from certain death. And for once, he’s the one to knock out Hayase with the same poison he once accidentally knocked out the others.

Speaking of the others, when Tonari gingerly picks up a sword with tears streaming down her eyes, ready to put down the husks that were once Oopa, Uroy and Mia, Fushi steps in to do it, having both summoned the courage and not wanting Tonari to have to do the deed.

During a solemn private memorial, one of the elder islanders asks their ostensible leader if she has any words for the people. Tonari says to stop the killing…especially after everyone saw what became of them making piles of corpses.

After wandering the island offering foot and supplies to anyone who needs them, Fushi takes his leave from the island, knowing it’s only a matter of time before the Nokkers return again. He bids Tonari and Sander an very understated farewell, if you consider how many pitched emotional moments they shared previously. Maybe that’s the point; they’ve been through, and lost, a lot. They’re tired.

One person who is tireless in her obsession with Fushi is Hayase, who wakes up elated to find she’s sharing a boat with Fushi. She confesses to Fushi how much she loves him and has always loved him ever since she first saw him, and offers to show him what that love means.

Fushi is understandably repulsed by Hayase and her offer, and pulls a trick I’d say would be cruel for anyone other than Hayase, considering the shit she’s pulled these last nineteen episodes. Fushi clones the rowboat and paddles away, leaving a tied-up Hayase stranded in a becalmed sea nowhere near land.

But as he returns to the mainland (and to Pioran) guided by Tonari’s owl, a Nokker core—perhaps the very one who spent some very formative minutes inside her arm—hops onto her boat and attacks her. Is this finally the end of Hayase? I’m loath to predict that, but the preview suggests the fighting may be over, even if the dying isn’t. But then death, like pain, breeds growth.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vanitas no Carte – 07 – What Is Love? Oh Domi Don’t Hurt Me…

While not a lot happens from a plot perspective this week, quite a bit of the steadily simmering love rhombus that is Jeanne, Vanitas, Domi and Noé comes into focus. This rude, selfish, annoying human has caused quite a stir in these three vampires’ hearts.

When Luca treats Noé and the others to tarte tatin at a fancy restaurant Vanitas reveals that Jeanne has “marked” him—imbuing him with some of her power while also leaving a literal rose-shaped mark on his neck. While he initially jokes that she couldn’t contain her lust for him, he then admits that the screams of the curse-bearers caused her to lose control.

Jeanne lifts him up and jumps out the window with him, landing in a dark alley demanding to know why he lied. The reality is that she is a curse-bearer who keeps herself under control with a medicine. She begs Vanitas not to tell anyone, and he gives her two conditions that underscore his genuine affection for her.

First, he insists that henceforth she drink no one’s blood but his. Second, he insists she stop calling him “Human” and start calling him by his name. Pulling his collar open to reveal her mark, she says his name as she digs her fangs back into his neck, unable to resist his sweet, sweet blood—even if the vessel of that blood’s a complete cad.

Noé, who felt compelled to chase after them, watches Jeanne bicker with Vanitas from the rooftops; it’s quite evident that he’s jealous of her closeness to him, even if he himself is to inexperienced in such things to realize this. One person who does realize it is Domi, who catches up to her Mon Chéri, but is clearly distressed when he mentions how troubled he was to hear that Jeanne sucked Vanitas’ blood.

He later elaborates that he just wanted to taste that sweet blood first, and Domi works out her frustration with him by gnawing on him, but their embrace gradually becomes more intimate when she drinks from his neck, only for him to gently slip off her glove and drink from her hand, noting that her blood is delectable. So is this scene, gorgeously lit as it is by the setting sun.

Since both guy-gal pairs had their steamy scenes, it’s only fair that the two pairs switch off for the final act, in which the dashing Domi leads Jeanne in a courtyard dance while Noé leads Vanitas in another. It’s here where Noé asks Vanitas “what in the devil is love”, to which Vanitas replies he has no idea.

All Vanitas knows is that when he thinks of Jeanne, his heart races and his body trembles. He lists all the reasons he believes those bodily reactions mean love, and none of them are more important than the fact that Jeanne will never love him, as he has “zero interest” in the sort of person who would love him. I guess that doesn’t bode well for Noé then, huh?!

As it stands, Vanitas loves Jeanne, Noé is growing to love Vanitas, Domi loves Noé, and Jeanne is strangely drawn to Vanitas. All these beautiful sexy people are all stirred up in a big romantic goulash. It’s sublime. It’s even enough for me to not particularly care how the plot progresses—except insofar as how it affects these four characters’ relationships.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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