O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 06 – Solo Sumo

The cultural festival committee, wanting to boost outside attendance this year, come to the lit club requesting they come up with a romantic urban legend. Little do they know how sensitive a subject romance is for all five of the girls, for very different reasons. And yet, just when the other four are ready for a vehement refusal from Rika, she quietly agrees to take the job.

Hitoha, meanwhile, feels like she’s in a sumo match all by herself, as she’s walking around in a cold, uncomfortable black thong, part of another example of her dangerous “indirect play” with Milo-sensei. It’s all about the fact she’s wearing it, he knows she’s wearing it, and she know he knows she’s wearing it, but he doesn’t seem that excited.

Instead, when the pretty (and age-appropriate) Tomita-sensei shows up, he leaves with her, and while flirting lets loose an important nugget Hitoha will use later. I still hold out hope Milo, the adult, will stop this before things go too far.

There’s a different match going on between Niina and Kazusa, and Momo is ill-equipped to referee. The problem is, the Niina and Kazusa girl are playing with different sets of rules. When Niina tells Kazusa to imagine how she’d want her love story with Izumi to start, Kazusa brings up how beautiful Niina is and how she lacks the same confidence over her looks.

When Niina presses, saying Kazusa is cute and in any case a relationship isn’t all about looking perfect, Kazusa flees. Momo tells Niina that she should clear it up with Kazusa that there’s nothing going on with Izumi, but Niina would rather exercise some “tough love.” For one thing, if there’s nothing to spur Kazusa or Izumi on, they’ll remain in limbo forever. Not to mention Niina is (rightfully!) mad at one of her supposed best friends Kazusa for assuming what so many others have—that she’s out to “steal their man.”

Rika, the one lit club member who has “won” her match and now has a boyfriend, has no idea what to do next. Amagi is eager to sing out their relationship from the rooftops, but she’d rather find a way to hide it in a forest. She wants to ask Amagi for a little more time to do so, but going public seems like something very important to him. This couple will need to learn to find a middle ground, lest it wither like an unpicked fruit on the vine.

Bereft of good ideas, Hitoha suggests a club field trip to an inn…the inn run by Milo-sensei’s family which she heard about while he was flirting with Tomita-sensei. Hitoha has since been given the run-around by her “editor,” saying erotica is no good and purer “young love” pieces are what’s hot now (the girl who published erotica ahead of her didn’t fare so well). Hitoha now finds herself perfectly positioned to draw from her own life for this new literary direction. She promises Milo she’ll thank him “with her body.”

The change of scenery doesn’t do much to get the creative juices flowing, particularly for Kazusa due to an incident on the train when Niina mentioned she had tea with Izumi. While Niina hoped being aggressive would spur Kazusa to action, it’s having an unexpected effect of making Kazusa retreat ever further into her burrow of self-loathing.

A break for baths is called when in the brainstorming session Kazusa suggests an urban legend about blowing up the school so you can be with the one you love in heaven forever. Dark. Shit. But even in the baths, Kazusa can’t escape her worsening inferiority complex, as Niina walks in without even trying to cover herself, showing off a body against which Kazusa doesn’t think she has any chance.

Niina is right to think neither Kazusa or Izumi will come out of their shells without external action. She’s also right to be hurt by Kazusa assuming she’s trying to steal Izumi, as well as the fact she believes Niina is the better choice because of her looks. But the difficulty level is way too high, and by episode’s end Kazusa has literally burned out in the bath. Whether Niina takes it down a notch for Kazusa’s sake depends on whether she honestly has zero interest in Izumi—the jury’s still out on that.

As for Momo, she’s mostly caught in between other conflicts this week. While there’s not much additional evidence this week to support viewers’ growing opinion that she’s into girls—and has a crush on Niina in particular—I would definitely welcome further exploration of that development. For now, she’s trying her best to keep the peace, because Niina vs. Kazusa could get ugly, fast.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 10 – Damn You, You’re Too Awesome!!

Nodoka prepares for the second day of commercial filming by watching DVDs of her sister in action, including a horror movie, which seems apt; body-swapping carries its own kind of horror, and she’s essentially wearing her big sister’s skin!

The prospect of screwing up similarly fills Nodoka with dread, but after twelve takes she does eventually get the job done.  When Mai calls her, she gives the phone to Sakuta, still not ready to talk to the person she’s made out to be her nemesis. But Mai tells Sakuta to congratulate her nonetheless; it can’t be easy to do your big sister’s job…especially if you come into it not believing you can do it from the start.

As for little sisters, Kaede has seen enough pretty girls pass through the doors of their apartment to start thinking like someone who knows that at some point they have to start going outside again. Putting on her school uniform is a small but meaningful first step on that path, and it’s good to see she’s not just some static mascot of a character. Like Futaba, her own story has been subtly maintained.

Nodoka’s personal horror movie inludes a banshee of a mother who confronts “Mai” to cease harboring her daughter; Nodoka-as-Mai truthfully replies that she’s doing no such thing (since she’s at Sakuta’s…but she wisely leaves him out of the equation).

Mai gives Sakuta and Nodoka tickets to her latest gig in Nodoka’s body, but before that Sakuta has a rare meeting with his Dad. When Kaede became a shut-in, their mother apparently had some kind of breakdown of her own (it’s kept pretty vague). It was serious enough for their father to have to basically choose between continuing to live with his kids, or taking care of their mother full-time and trusting that Sakuta will be able to take care of himself and Kaede.

While at a family restaurant (fitting), Sakuta gleans fresh insight into his Dad; specifically how completely frazzled clueless he was upon his son’s birth. Sakuta says “all of the above” in response to Nodoka’s choices of “love, hate, piss you off, are annoying” as how he feels about his parents. Clearly a part of him has concluded that if he’s able to run a household with his little sister and solve cases involving one girl after another, he can’t really rag on his folks that much.

As for the Sweet Bullet gig, Mai-as-Nodoka is flawlesss, a testament to her consummate professionalism, attention to detail. Hell, she even saves the group leader’s ass when she trips by catching her mic and continuing to sing her part without missing a beat. Her performance is rewarded by the announcement she’ll be singling lead for the next song they release.

Nodoka and Sakuta watch, utterly enthralled. After the concert, Nodoka’s mom is among those who “high-fives” Mai-as-Nodoka, and she smiles, tears up, and congratulates her, things she never did to Nodoka-as-Nodoka. Nodoka demands to go to the beach, and starts striding into the sea, believing she isn’t needed by anyone anymore.

Sakuta stops her, and assures her that’s not the case: if anything happened to her, Mai would be sad, and Sakuta can’t have that. Nodoka doubts him, but he assures her it’s true, and furthermore knows it’s true, especially after looking into the forbidden cabinet at Mai’s place.

He shows Nodoka the box in that cabinet, which contains every single letter Nodoka wrote to her big sis, from before they knew they were sisters. Mai’s always treasured them because they gave her courage and strength knowing someone specific (as opposed to the other faceless masses) was cheering her on.

It was thanks to Nodoka that Mai even started enjoying her work. Mai appears (it is her apartment they’re in) to thank her sister. Nodoka comes back with a tirade about how it’s “too late” since Mai managed to get her mother to smile and approve, and get her own lead singing gig before her.

In response Mai slaps not Nodoka, but Sakuta (since Mai has a shoot tomorrow  and she doesn’t want to risk marring her face). She describes how Nodoka’s Mom’s hands were trembling when she held hers; how she could tell her mom was uneasy about whether her daughter was truly happy; seeing her perform so well all but confirmed she was.

Nodoka asks why her Mom never said anything, but unlike, say, Sakuta’s Dad at the restaurant, parents are always loath to tell their kids how uneasy they feel about raising them, and about whether they’re doing it right. Mai’s solution for Nodoka, as the sisters embrace, is to make her mother happy doing something she wants to do, not just what she’s told. To show that she can stand on her own, without direction, and shine. Seto Asami does a tremendous job voicing Nodoka through Mai in the emotionally cathartic scene.

The sisters now sufficiently made up, their bodies switch back to normal like the snapping of a soap bubble, before Sakuta’s eyes. Later, Futaba posits that Nodoka’s believed need to “be like her big sister” resulted in the swap (possibly through a variant of quantum teleportation), while Mai changed her appearance to Nodoka, out of momentary jealousy.

As for Sakuta, he’s just happy he can be lovey-dovey with the real Mai. But two new obstacles threaten that desire. One, Nodoka moves in with Mai (she got in another fight with her Mom, but hey—that’s what family does sometimes; it’s not the end of their relationship, she just wanted a change—and the little matter of Nodoka-as-Mai being photographed with Sakuta by her side by a photographer. Now there’s buzz out there that Mai Has A Boyfriendsomething Mai calls a “slight problem.”

But I agree with her assessment; it’s not as huge an emergency as a bout of Adolescence Syndrome (the next case of which looks to finally focus on Kaede next week), nor a rift between sisters that was just amicably closed. She and Sakuta are a strong, dependable, shrewd couple. They’ll get through it!

Bunny Girl Senpai – 09 – Two Friendless Sisters

When the second school term begins in September, Sakuta just can’t wait to see Mai. Due to the dating ban and her busy schedule he’s seen neither hide nor tail of her, and that trend continues when she fails to show up to school.

When he finally does happen upon her on a random street, there’s something…off about her. She claims to not know who Sakuta is. Then a short blonde girl appears, telling him she’s the real Mai, and that she and her half-sister Toyohama Nodoka have swapped bodies.

This happened quite suddenly after Nodoka ran away from home and her domineering mother (she and Mai have the same dad) and spent the night at Mai’s impressive, self-bought condo. When they woke up, they were switched.

This is clearly adolescence syndrome, but while the cause becomes clear enough—Nodoka has a lot of built-up resentment for her “perfect” big sis—the means to undo the swap remain elusive, short of propelling Nodoka to the top of the idol charts (something most likely beyond Sakuta’s abilities).

So the two carry on in each others’ lives, trying not to draw to much attention. The fact that Mai’s schedule is comparatively paltry compared to Nodoka’s not only speaks to how hard Nodoka’s mom is pushing her to succeed, but Mai’s desire to have as much time to hang out with Sakuta as possible during the second term.

Despite not having a perfect big sister, Sakuta diagnoses Nodoka’s issues pretty easily, leading to Nodoka confronting Mai and telling her things she’s kept inside, hoping honesty might be a step towards undoing the swap. Instead, Mai shoots her negative emotions regarding Nodoka right back at her.

While it’s not immediately clear from the montage of Mai and Nodoka’s days as one another is just how much easier Mai is able to slip into her little sister’s life, doing the necessary singing, dancing, and training required of a rising idol and purporting herself well.

Nodoka does alright with the photo shoots and interviews—things she’s done before—but when it comes time to film a commercial and memorize lines when a camera is rolling and an entire crew is surrounding her…it’s too much. She hyperventilates and the shoot has to be cancelled. When Sakuta reports the incident, Mai is surprised; she figured Nodoka would have been able to get a good take from that particular director.

Being somewhat out of his element with regards to younger siblings, Sakuta gets some insight from the most unlikely of sources: Kunimi’s girlfriend, Kumisato, who like Nodoka, has a hardworking, overachieving, brilliant, perfect big sister (I assume she’s pretty too).

Kumisato neither likes nor hates her, because it’s nothing that simple. What she can say is that she’s always annoyed by her mom’s constant urging that she take her sister as an example and study more.

Being a middle child myself, I can state that there was always the push-pull of wanting to set a good example for my little sis while not falling too far behind my big bro (who is much more academically inclined than me…not to mention more historically and politically informed. I can paint way better though!) But my siblings and I aren’t competing in the same field, so we never really competed the way Mai and Nodoka seem to be.

More importantly, we had parents who pushed us to be the best individuals we could be; we weren’t used as pawns in a proxy war between our mothers (for one thing, we all had the same mother, but still). I have no doubt a part of Nodoka is proud of her half-sis, and a part of Mai is happy to have a younger sister to inspire and support. But their folks have not made it easy for them to interact with each other on their own terms.

Body-swap episodes seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but I’ll admit to being a big fan of them when they’re well-executed, as this one is. It’s nice to hear Seto Asami switch up her voice style to match the Nodoka in Mai’s body, not to mention Uchida Maaya’s more upright measure as Mai in Nodoka’s body. The fact they are swapped, and the novelty therein, is secondary to why the swap occurred, as well as how to undo it, which, as with the other solutions to adolescence syndrome outbreaks, will require character growth to achieve.

But my main gripe with this arc is that I found it hard to garner as much enthusiasm as I did for the previous ones. Perhaps that’s due in part to the brisk, sudden manner in which Nodoka is introduced, and the fact the only time we saw her in her own body was in that brief TV interview with her idol group. Futaba, who interacted plenty with Sakuta prior to her own arc, is thus proving a tough act to follow for Nodoka, who entered this episode a virtual unknown.

Prince of Stride: Alternative – 04

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PoS (which is not a POS) follows up a big, exciting, official race with…another big, exciting, official race! Good form, especially if this is just a single-cour series. An anime about a game of speed should have a fast-moving plot. Especially since, well, most of the characters are pretty bland, so it’s best not to focus on them too long!

One notable exception this week is Ayumu, who may be the most knowledgeable in trivia and best shogi player, is the worst runner on the team. Far from being able to pull off “gimmicks”, he’s scared of them, taking him off whatever pace and flow he’s able to put together. But Ayumu doesn’t let that stop him.

He uses his frustration with being the worst at everything Stride-related (well, almost everything; more on that later) to fuel a steady, forceful improvement regime, helped out by Hozumi. And while he’s exhausted on the day of the race in hot-springy Atami, and Takeru doesn’t seem interested in his muscles in the bath (not necessarily a bad thing), he’s a lot more confident than he was.

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That is, until he meets his opponent on Mihashi High’s team, who is very friendly but also enormous, with a death grip for a handshake. It’s here where Ayumu hints that in order to survive in Stride (and more importantly to him, not let everyone down), he must flex his most developed “muscle”: his brain. To that end, he convinces his opponent he’s racing for his sister (though it kinda backfires when the guy promises he’ll give it his very best, rather than let him win).

Ayumu’s little conflict isn’t quite enough to sustain an entire episode, however, so it’s good there are a couple more things bubbling. You have the Kamoda brothers, for instance: the older, meeker Yuu only a “figurehead” relationer to the team’s ace, the younger, flashier Kei.

Yuu’s unique relationing style during the race positively baffles Nana (along with a no-radio-reception tunnel at a crucial moment, a rookie mistake). She’s even more troubled (and hence, distracted) when she learns that the runners aren’t actually even taking orders from Yuu.

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Still, Nana trusts in her runners and they make their relations; perhaps a bit sloppily here and there, but they make them. It’s another exciting race with the guys making the Road Runner whooshing sound when they take off running. I’ll only say that while in general I dig the super blue-heavy palette of PoS, the over-saturation tends to be overused at times.

When it’s Ayumu’s turn, the lead the previous three runners built against Mihashi quickly vanishes as the skyscraper blows past him. Unable to bear being the one who lost them the race, he takes a crafty shortcut that nobody expects, only because it requires a dangerous drop, which he does not stick. For a few moments when Nana couldn’t reach him, I feared he’d ended up in the drink, ending the race right there.

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Instead, he makes contact to Nana, and makes the last relation with Hozumi, who digs deep and regains the lead for Honan, resulting in their first win by a fraction of a second. No time for celebration, though, as Hozumi immediately turns around and races to Ayumu, who is later carted off to the hospital, banged up but alive.

After losing the race he so desperately wanted to win for Yuu, Kei decides he’s done usurping him as relationer, and for all the apologizing Yuu does, Kei knows he’s the one who should be sorry. Good for you, guy who looks way too much like Takeru!

Our last little wrinkle of drama is another peek into the whole “Riku’s estranged brother” story, where apparently after seeing his brother’s team win on the interwebs, Tomoe calls Galaxy’s relationer Kyousuke about maybe pairing up.

Kyousuke is noncommittal (he apparently had to give up Stride and doesn’t deserve to run anymore…so dramatic!), but something tells me one way or another we’re gonna see a clash of the Yagami brothers.

But here’s the thing: I just don’t think I’m going to have time to cover PoS every Tuesday going forward, so I’m afraid this is goodbye. But it’s a goodbye with a Robert Redford Nod of Approval.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 24 (Fin)

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All good things must come to an end, whether it’s the most charming and engaging romance in recent memory, or a lovely but ultimately dead-end relationship between two incompatible people. Yes, that’s right, kids, this also marks the end of Rinko+Takeo, as Ichinose swoops in, sweeps Rinko off her feet, places her on a bed of maringue, and drizzles caramel sauce on her.

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…PSYCH! They remain a couple to the end. Ichinose is unsuccessful in stealing her away, despite his firm believe that A.) Rinko is his muse, and B.) he’s a better fit for her. Takeo, as usual, is a worrywort who finds it necessary to prepare for a life without Rinko should Ichinose succeed, as dense to the depths of Rinko’s love as Rinko is of Ichinose’s feeling.

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Even though we knew there was no way in hell this couple would break up in the last episode, it still managed to maintain a respectable tension, as we basically absorbed Takeo’s anxiety. But despite his worrying, he puts up a brave front, and doesn’t despise Ichinose. In fact, for all their differences, he can relate to him simply because he too likes Rinko. Suna, meanwhile, is just glad to see these new sides of Takeo; it means he’s growing as a man.

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Takeo also suspects, quite correctly, Rinko has no clue about Ichinose’s feelings, but is simply helping him out because she’s a good person, because he asked, and because she loves cakes. When Ichinose forgets his tools (no doubt distracted by Rinko), Takeo has no problem answering the call and bringing them with his superhuman speed. And as he watches Ichinose work, Takeo is rooting for him to win. He can win the pastry competition; Takeo is simply hoping he’ll lose the competition for Rinko’s heart.

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Ichinose himself can’t help but regard Takeo as a good man too, even if he feels he’s the better match for Rinko. It’s a great dynamic, with no one overtly evil or villainous or ridiculous. Even Ichinose’s extreme bluntness in his intentions as expressed to Takeo and Suna make sense, considering Ichi is a far better pastry person than people person.

He wins the Gold with a pastry containing all of the same qualities as Rinko, even naming it after her before confessing his love and asking her out—in front of Takeo and Suna, no less!

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Rinko is shocked and taken completely by surprise, but it doesn’t take long for her to formulate her response: She’s fine helping him out at the pastry shop, but she’s no muse, and her heart belongs to Takeo, as it has always belonged since she first laid eyes on the big lug. All of Takeo’s anxiety washes away in the warmth of that pronouncement, and shortly afterwards, Takeo gives her a big ol’ hug and does something he’s been working hard to do since they became a couple: call her Rinko.

Appropriately, it’s as big a deal for her to hear him say her first name as it is for him to say it, so when Takeo promises he’ll learn to use it more casually, I was also thinking Rinko would, at the same time, learn to hear it without her heart melting into goo.

An there you have it, peeps: My Love Story!! (Well, not mine…theirs). It has been quite a fun ride, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ll dearly miss this day-brightening, mold-breaking show, which is the first this Summer to have the good sense and manners to thank the audience for watching at the very end! Trust me, show: the pleasure was all ours.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 23

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Quite unexpectedly, we enter the penultimate episode of this lovely series with the most profound and troubling dilemma yet to face the lovely couple of Takeo and Yamato. The former has encouraged the latter to work part-time at her favorite patisserie, Les Cerises. In the process, he may have just handed his girlfriend over to a superior potential mate. At least, that’s the feeling he gets once he learns that the young, up-and-coming patissier, Ichinose, is on first-name basis with “Rinko.”

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At first, Takeo is intent on being happy and supportive of Yamato as she pursues her passion; a craft she’s very good at but until now hasn’t gotten professional exposure to. It’s also a craft Takeo doesn’t share with her, and it isn’t even something he can talk with her that much about. Ichinose can, and he’s able to dazzle Yamato in ways Takeo can not: with his pastry expertise.

That lack of a shared passion (ignoring their passion for each other) combined with the ease with which Ichinose calls Yamato Rinko (and the difficulty Takeo has even thinking about doing the same) combine to create a profound inferiority in Takeo, as he watches things unfold from afar without fully understanding the full context…nor the fact that Yamato may not actually like Ichinose that way, despite her respect and admiration for his mad skillz.

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While Takeo considers that Yamato could well be falling for Ichinose, Suna all but confirms Ichinose is falling for Yamato, judging from his careful analysis of Ichinose’s stare.

As abruptly as Ichinose enters the Ore Monogatari!! world, he’s still given a fair hearing and development all his own. He’s a talented fellow, but up to this point been a bit of a lone wolf lacking a certain…something that deprived his work of warmth and love. The more time he spends with Yamato, the more he comes to think of her as his muse.

So when Takeo comes by the shop and Ichinose learns he’s Yamato’s boyfriend, I can understand, considering his inexperience in dealing with such matters, why Ichinose is so curt and abrupt in running up to Takeo and demanding he break up with Yamato immediately, as he sees himself as the better fit. And Takeo understands too.

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Takeo put Yamato in the position to meet someone who might be better for her, and he can’t dismiss that possibility out of hand. It’s pretty devastating how effectively and succinctly Ichinose wraps up Takeo and Yamato’s unlikely relationship, even if he’s oversimplifying and underestimating the depth of Yamato’s love for Takeo.

It’s not a coincidence that right after Takeo concedes that “there may be others who are better” for Yamato out there, that we cut to someone who’s been tossed around by the show as someone who may be better for him in Suna’s big sister Ai, who may even understand him more than Suna. Takeo’s greatest strength, throughout his life and the show, has been putting others before himself, to make those others happy.

This week we see why that’s a weakness, as he puts himself and Yamato in a pretty good position to destory everything they’ve built these last twenty-odd episodes. But again, that’s only if we take Takeo’s inferiority and Ichinose’s desires as the law of the land. While things are in a precarious position, we have yet to hear how Yamato—no, Rinko—feels about things. And I wouldn’t be surprised she has no intention of switching boyfriends.

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Sukitte Ii na yo – 10

Megumi gives Land tickets to Kai, and starts isolating Mei by intercepting and hanging out with Asami and Aiko, while spreading rumors about Mei and Kai that trouble Yamato. When he gets wind of the rumor that Kai is taking Mei to Land, he confronts them both. Kai stands his ground, telling him he’s not being attentive enough to Mei, and hasn’t changed from the calculating kid who never publicly acknowledged him. When Yamato throws a punch in rage, Kei blocks it and counters with his own, knocking him down, but Yamato won’t let him have Mei. Yamato backs down, apologizing and admitting Yamato’s inaction led to him getting stronger on his own. He leaves Yamato and Mei, who exchange apologies and decide to go to Land together.

Operation Sabotage Yamato+Mei commences, and the level of complexity and coordination in Megumi’s scheme is dizzying. If only she put this much effort into finding another guy, she’d have one, AMIRITE? But seriously, we always knew she was bad news. We just didn’t know why, beyond a shallow “I want what I want” mentality. In reality, and beneath all the good looks and social graces, she’s just as lonely, uneasy, and un-confident as Mei. One reason she may want to destroy Mei is because she sees a lot of herself in her. Get rid of that part of her for good, and maybe Yamato will notice her. But her schemes are simply the wrong way of going about it, and if Yamato ever finds out she’s behind any of it, he’ll hate her. Three people felt tinges of suspicion in her behavior, including Kai and Aiko, but only Momo (another classmate) called her out on her mood swings.

From what we’ve seen, every character in this series has wounds an a degree of inferiority, but they deal with it in different ways. Kai and Mei both know the pain of being alone and ostracized. Aiko and Megumi know the pain of hating their bodies and keeping up appearances  Yamato, meanwhile, has Megumi’s social graces, but has always strove to fit in, and has always been damned good at it; so good, it invoked resentment and envy from Kai. The whole climactic confrontation between Yamato and Kai, with Mei looking on, was fantastic. It not only ended amicably, but also completely torpedoed Megu-tan’s plan. Other than first reaching out to Mei, he’s been very passive. Kai calls their relationship “bland” and lacking in urgency. We agree with him. Their date to Land will hopefully move things along…especially if it turns out Yamato booked that hotel room! WOO yeah!


Rating: 9 (Superior)