Love After World Domination – 04 – Can’t Take Me Home

This week showed that while many of the characters play rather cartoonish heroes or villains, at the end of the day everyone’s a normal human being. Desumi even attends high school and has normal friends while she’s not “at work”. But while hanging out after school, she spots Fudou with the new Pink Gelato, and her reaction—running away in tears—is as intense as her friends are confused.

Pink, AKA Haru, is also confused…by the photo of Fudou with what looks an awful lot like a girlfriend. She and Fudou aren’t on a date; she needs to ask him about the photo. But instead he intuits the reason for their meet-up is that she’s interested in upping her physical training regimen. Haru is helpless to stop him from going off on his favorite topic, and she ends up relieved, as there’s simply no way Fudou would have a girlfriend.

But he does, and she’s pissed. When Fudou and Haru’s coffee is interrupted by a call of duty, Fudou finds and engages with Desumi expecting them to go through their usual dance, only this time Desumi’s dropkick lands. He thinks it’s an accident, or they’re just a little out of sync today, but eventually he realizes Desumi is hitting him on purpose.

The two end up in a secluded warehouse, where Desumi admits that even though her brain didn’t really think Fudou was cheating on her, the sight of him with Haru sent her heart into such turmoil she didn’t know what to do with herself. In fact, she started to think maybe someone “girly” like Haru would be better for him than a jealous, violent, loathsome outcast like her.

Fudou is swift in both his comforting hug and his rebuttal: he will only love her, with everything he’s got, as long as he lives. With her totally undeserved self-loathing out of her system, she and Fudou simply exist together for a bit, hand in hand, planning an afterschool date in their school uniforms…when all of a sudden they notice that Pink Gelato is sitting right next to them.

Fudou and Desumi are certain they’re 100% busted and doomed. But the thing is…they aren’t, at least not for the time being. They both believe Haru is planning something, and simply biding her time before she drops the hammer. But Haru is conspicuous in not only not telling anyone what she saw, but acting like she never saw it; like everything’s normal.

That is, until Fudou and Desumi’s after-school date. After a civet(!)-based false alarm, Desumi realizes Haru is lying in wait, and sends Fudou off on an interminable and ultimately doomed Starbucks run. Haru doesn’t mince words, challenging Desumi to a duel. Despite her transforming into Pink Gelato, Desumi handles her easily even in her school uniform. After all, Pink’s only been at this six months; Desumi’s a veteran enemy commander.

Desumi puts the end to the fight by knocking Haru out, but Haru is shocked to find that when she wakes up, Desumi is still there beside her. She admits that she joined Gelato 5 because she was in love with Fudou. She always suspected someone so amazing would have a girlfriend, but never expected it to be someone else she knew. Turns out Desumi rescued her from some thugs in an alley…and inspired her to become stronger.

Haru heard everything Desumi said to Fudou in the warehouse about how “love was making her weak”, but after fighting her, Haru assures her she’s as strong as ever. As for why she didn’t snitch on them, well…as much as she wanted Fudou to be hers, it just wasn’t in her to steal happiness from Fudou or Desumi. When Haru says this her eyes well up with big soppy tears. Desumi can’t help but hug her, and then she starts crying too.

When a very confused Fudou sees Haru’s head in Desumi’s lap and asks what’s going on, Desumi simply shushes him; let Pink Gelato rest a little more. Once she’s awake and back in her uniform, the three walk a bit together. Having experienced a catharsis, Haru is now rooting for Fudou and Desumi…but playfully won’t rule out stealing Fudou if given the chance.

It’s amazing how quickly this love triangle came together this week, and how affecting it was throughout its progression. From Desumi’s early jealous spiraling and Fudou’s stalwart vow he’ll never leave her side, to Haru’s discovery of their tryst and how she handles it, this was Koiseka at its best and most heartwarming.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 03 – Heads Up, Tails Down Bad

Kashiwagi P.I.

Kaguya-sama is to my mind never a show that has to scape the bottom of a barrel, because it has a whole cellar full of barrels that are always full. Take the oft-sampled scenario of the romantically inept Student Council having to give advice to the far more experienced Kashiwagi Nagisa. In this case, Nagisa has come suspecting her boyfriend of cheating on her with her friend.

Nagisa proceeds to confess to a number of actual crimes of privacy invasion before making the ludicrous statement of hiring a P.I. because she trusts her man, but every time Miko tries to point out how rashly Nagisa is acting, Kaguya steps in to support Nagisa’s theories. When Miko says going to karaoke with someone is cheating does Kaguya say it isn’t (due to what happened with Miyuki and Hayasaka). Miko is feeling so bad she has to listen to her self-affirmation audio.

Ultimately by talking things through with Kaguya and Miko, Nagisa works up the courage to confront her boyfriend directly. When he reiterates that he likes her and gives her a gold heart necklace, all is forgiven. Miyuki and Yuu believe the guy made a slick move, while Kaguya, Miko and Chika all agree the necklace is lame as hell! Then Nagisa and her bae start making out, and we’re reminded that it’s the student council that’s lame to cast aspersions about gifts when none of them are officially dating.

Lovesick Heart of the Nation

The second segment involves the other side of the love triangle: Nagisa’s old friend Shijou Maki (a dynamic Ichinose Kana). After pretending not to care about Nagisa telling her not to hang out with her BF so much, she walks home slumped over like Charlie Brown (or George Michael Bluth). Yuu and Miyuki are chatting spiritedly when the latter suddenly steps on the prone Maki’s head, accompanied by a sound effect for the ages.

Just as Kaguya and Miko had to counsel (i.e. endure) Nagisa, Miyuki and Yuu are pressed into service as advisors to Maki, who is a particularly haughty member of a Shinomiya branch family, is possessed of incurable tsundere-ness, and can flip the cuteness on and off like a plasma globe. She goes to some dark places but you can tell it helps just to have someone to listen to, even if she deems them (mostly Yuu) an ignoramus.

The two boys agree to help her steal Nagisa’s boyfriend in large part due to this ability to come across as unbelievably cute and sympathetic. Yuu also admires her unvarnished honesty about everything but her love of Nagisa’s bae (finally admitting she does after denying it ten straight times).

After a tense, hostile interaction with her “auntie” Kaguya, Maki says both boys said she was cute, which has Kaguya in Miyuki’s face like stink on shit. But Miyuki can’t very well say he finds Maki cute because she reminds him of Kaguya, not can he?!

Polygraph-Enhanced Fun

In the final segment, Kaguya, still curious about what exactly happened at that group date, asks Chika what goes on at such functions. Chika hasn’t been to one either, but is aware of group date games like one played with 10-yen coins and revealing yes-or-no answers that are kept anonymous by a handkerchief.

Like most seemingly innocuous little games Chika suggests the council plays, this one becomes a battle of wits between everyone to get the others to admit to something they wouldn’t normally admit to. Chika naturally wants to know who is currently in love (three of the five of them…but who’s the third?).

Yuu wants to know who hates him (only one…but it might not be Miko?) Miko wants to know that she’s necessary and wanted (five yesses…even from Yuu). When Kaguya notices that you can tell whose answers are whose by the mint date of the coins, she tries to trap Miyuki into a confession, with the added protection of Chika insisting on a polygraph if any lying is suspected.

Of course, she’s giving Miyuki too little credit not assuming he’d have a defense—in this case a second coin in his pocket that has the same mint date as two others. Unfortunately, his counterattack, to reveal Kaguya has been using the mint numbers to get a leg up, fails when two others admit to doing the same.

When Miyuki and Kaguya are alone in the more dramatically-lit office after school (one of my favorite kinds of Kaguya-sama scenes), Miyuki asks Kaguya if she had group dates on her mind because she heard he went on one. He then clears the air by admitting he did, but didn’t do anything frivolous, and says he wants “at least her” to believe her. When he asks if she does, she doesn’t answer verbally, but sneakily leaves her answer—yes—in coin form on the desk.

While this didn’t pack the emotional or dramatic punch of last week’s masterpiece, it was still a strong episode that followed up on the aftermath of that group date while bringing back Nagisa, a model of romantic honesty, and introducing the intriguing, imperious Maki as a kind of “Kaguya-Lite”. It also looks like the Starship Troopers ending wasn’t a one-off…Good!

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 02 – Better to Not Put on an Act

The Ishigami-Iino Accords

Kaguya-sama is about far more than two goofs who won’t admit their love out of pride and fear. It has the ammo to provide a veritable kaleidoscope of spinoff stories about its other characters. Ishigami and Iino Don’t Get Along could not only be a decent series unto itself, but has an incredibly catchy English title!

That Ishi-Iino isn’t a spinoff from the Kaguya-sama: Love Is War Cinematic Universe is a shame, but it’s also the mark of a great series that it keeps you wanting to see more of its greatness. Also, it’s good enough that it doesn’t have to spin things off. Sometimes a small taste is enough.

So we’ve known for a while now that Ishigami and Iino hate each other…but do they? Sure, they seem to inhabit opposite ends of the Discipline-Rebellion Spectrum, but we know better. Ishigami has as strong a sense of justice as Iino, especially where Iino herself is concerned. He just chooses to conceal it behind an outer crust she loathes.

By the same token, Ishigami obviously respects Iino’s honesty and diligence, or he wouldn’t stand to defend her from embarrassment. The thing is, their practiced hostility has escalated to a level neither Miyuki nor Iino’s friend Osaragi can suffer. Hence, the Ishigami-Iino Friendship Plan.

After an exchange of compliments turns into a hatefest, ear-cleaning becomes awkward contortionism, and Pocky-eating leads to aggressively gnashing teeth, Osaragi ditches Miyuki’s plan and pulls out the big guns, telling the two what a good match they are, and how it’s “typical teen behavior” to not be able to stop yourself from being mean to the one you like.

Ishigami and Iino are so shocked by the checkmate they relent on the spot, then devolve into an automated, emotionless, auto-tuned exchange of Iino saying “I like you quite a lot” and Ishigami returning the sentiment. It’s very far from normal human interaction, but by the letter of what the segment victor Osaragi and Miyuki set out to do, it gets the job done.

Play Along, All Right?

Of course, simply getting the job done on paper is not Kaguya-sama’s M.O., as evidenced by the epic two-parter that closes the episode. This might also just be my favorite segment of all the shows two-plus seasons. After declining several times in the past, Miyuki finally accepts an invite from classmates to go out for karaoke and “networking” with kids from other schools, unaware that it’s really going to be a group date.

Hayasaka can’t help but point this out to Kaguya, but Hayasaka ends up being inconvenienced, as Kaguya orders her to attend the group date and make sure no girls get near the President. Hayasaka is so good at getting herself mixed up in Kaguya’s man mess that one frankly can’t rule out that she does it on purpose, for sport or personal achievement.

This scenario marks the return of Hayasaka’s alter-ego “Miss Herthaka”, and when Miyuki recognizes her, she’s grumpy enough with her plight that she decides to take the fact that he dumped her like a bag of sand when last they met and run with it like Marshawn Lynch in Beast Mode.

After making clear to Miyuki’s pals that he dumped her, she takes the stage and belts out a stirring, pitch-perfect rendition of “My Feelings” by Akasaka Saka/Giorgio Giorgio. If there’s such a thing as anime nirvana, it’s this.

What makes this performance so powerful is that it’s not played 100% as a joke. Hayasaka is legitimately frustrated both by her past failure to seduce Miyuki and Kaguya’s continued taking of the President for granted as someone who will always be available to her.

After the song, Hayasaka and Miyuki have a serious discussion about putting on acts. When she rants about her “little sister” forcing her to come to this to get over being dumped, he feels like he’s talking to the something like the “real her” … which of course she is, since she’s voicing real frustrations! Miyuki, always forthright in everything but his love of Kaguya, feels he can relate to her better, and you get the feeling he likes this “Herthaka” more than the obviously fake one from their first encounter.

Hayasaka then reveals her position on the matter, which is that “no one will ever love you unless you’re acting”, and that weakness and ugliness must be hidden by that acting. He then puts it to him whether he’s actually the real Shirogane Miyuki, or if he overreaches and bluffs. He thinks on this and decides it would probably be best to call it a night.

Hurt You Just a Little

When some rando tries to put the moves on Hayasaka the moment she’s alone, Miyuki returns, takes her by the hand, and leads her to safety, telling her to “play along”. She’s so moved by the gesture, she reserves a room just for her and Miyuki, where she plans to succeed in Kaguya’s dare for her to seduce him.

Hayasaka reports this to Kaguya via earpiece, who is in her covert ops outfit on a rooftop. And again, this is all played straight. We have a legit love triangle here! There’s a part of Hayasaka who likes Shirogane and a part of her that wants to win, and when opportunity like this knocks she’s not going to ignore it. What started as a playful dare is no longer just a game. When Hayasaka cuts off communication, Kaguya panics.

She knows that normally Hayasaka operates within the bounds of common sense. But she also knows that Hayasaka was furious for having to go to the group date to begin with, so who knows what she’s capable of. Kaguya finds the door of the booth where they are, but there she’s paralyzed from further action.

The window is covered by Hayasaka’s coat, rendering it a Schrödinger’s Shirogane scenario. Whatever is or isn’t happening in there, Kaguya’s imagining of what it might be is far worse. And she knows she can’t just barge in without “losing”, i.e. revealing she cares so much about Miyuki that she’ll stalk him when he’s hanging out with friends (which, yes, she does, and is!).

Her solution? Invite Chika to karaoke, being sure to give her the number of the booth. But before Chika can arrive to open the box, Kaguya starts hearing suggestive noises and a flurry of double entendres. When Miyuki exits the booth to go to the bathroom, Kaguya slips in and learns the truth: Hayasaka’s strange utterings were reactions to Miyuki’s rapping.

While I saw this coming, it’s still an excellent callback to Chika’s attempts to improve Miyuki’s vocal skills. But I don’t believe rapping lessons were part of her curriculum judging by the state of Hayasaka. When Chika finally arrives and hears Hayasaka describe what she heard, it immediately puts her off karaoke and the three take off, leaving Miyuki all alone.

On the ride home, Hayasaka admits to Kaguya that she had become somewhat jealous of how happy and carefree she’s been of late, and selfishly wanted to take her down a peg, or as she puts it wanted her to “hurt just a little.”

She accomplished that mission admirably thanks to her intimate knowledge of Kaguya, but Kaguya already knew it must’ve been something like that thanks to her intimate knowledge of Hayasaka; specifically, how twisted her personality is. Hayasaka shoots back that Kaguya’s no different than her, and Kaguya doesn’t argue that fact.

While Hayasaka might have started out as Kaguya’s maid and attendant, the fact of the matter is in the ensuing years they’ve grown into something far more like sisters. Siblings love each other, but they can also irritate or hurt each other like no one else. I really loved this sprawling segment’s ability to balance humor and character drama so perfectly.

Mind you, the credits could have rolled during this last exchange between Kaguya and Hayasaka, but that would simply be “getting the job done.” Instead, the end credits roll over an lovingly, amazingly detailed intro for a Starship Troopers anime adaptation, with Miyuki, Kaguya and Hayasaka reflecting that film’s triangle of Rico, Carmen, and Dizzy.

Again, this ED could be a whole show, and it would be incredible. But here it’s just a fun throwaway gag. We live in rare and tremendous times that anime like this is still made.

RWHL

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 10 – A Better Snowman

Dang photo bombers…your ruining the shot!

Knowing it would be hard-pressed to top last week’s full-length Takagi x Nishikata wonder-date, this week’s episode doesn’t bother; instead it returns to the warm, cozy, less dramatic flow of the couple’s interactions. Last week wasn’t an official acknowledgment that they’re dating now, but such a formality isn’t needed with these two. They’re fine just existing beside one another, fitting like, well, gloves!

To whit: the two didn’t plan to meet at the shrine visit; their families just happened to come at the same time. It sure looks like those two married couples were their parents, doesn’t it? I feel like at some point they’ll have to meet each other’s parents, but that they don’t mean we get more time with these two. hen Takagi is called back to her folks, Nishikata says they should do it again next year…which she says happened to be her shrine wish. Who’s to say it wasn’t?

Yes, that’s right…make that ball bigger…

The next segment is classic Master Teaser, with Takagi up to her old tricks in cornering Nishikata into a snowman-building contest knowing full well that he’ll get to ambitious. While he’s sweatily rolling dirty lumpen mounds trying to build a Snow Titan, Takagi puts a lot of time and care and quite effortlessly builds the cutest lil’ snowman in all the land…so cute Nishikata doubts he’d have won. even if he’d finished…which Takagi helps him do.

NGL, from a distance this looks like a confession…

After Nishikata’s friends and the three girls have their little mini-scenes talking about the new year, we come to “Advice”, when Houjou takes Nishikata aside and asks him what he thinks Hamaguchi might like for his birthday. Yuuki Aoi is masterful at sounding both mature and incredibly hot-and-cold. For his part, Nishikata is both thoughtful and helpful. Then Houjou asks him to keep their chat a secret.

Little did Nishikata know that Takagi spotted him talking with Houjou, and asks him what about. When Nishikata demurs, she guesses correctly on the first guess, and pretty much knows, but Nishikata still won’t break his secret. Takagi’s facial expressions are so subtle here, but you can tell she’s a little mad Nishikata is keeping something from her…even if she knows what it is with 99.99% certainty!

Takagi expresses her jealousy by trying to stoke Nishikata’s, saying she wants to know what to get a “15-year-old boy”—not a Chihuahua, but a third-year middle schooler. This does affect Nishikata, who doesn’t want to give advice for some other guy…even though these two spend so much time together he would know of such a guy!

Of course, this time, Takagi is referring to Nishikata on his next birthday. He’s quite relieved, and apologizes for not being able to break his promise. Takagi apologizes too, owning up to the fact she did do something a little mean. When Nishikata asks her why she doesn’t always think that, she says this and her usual gentle teasing are two different things!

When Nishikata flat-out asks Takagi why she teases him, her answer is as expected…“Who knows?” But she knows, and so does Nishikata, and it’s the same reason they’re already making plans for spending next year together.

Vanitas no Carte – 17 – Voler Trop Près du Soleil

With her fully operational Alteration Engine, Chloé is able to give Naenia a physical form…so she can choke the bitch out for what she did to her beloved Jean-Jacques. As she says, she’s a terribly jealous woman, to the point she’ll change the rules of space and time just so she can get her hands around a solid neck of the non-corporeal devil dwelling on her shoulder for so long.

Naturally, this backfires, when Chloé, in her desperate desire to uncover who Naenia truly is, ends up awakening Naenia’s memories of who she is: the first vampire of the crimson moon, Queen Faustina. The tables are suddenly turned, as Chloé is overpowered, the Beast tamed, her Engine stalled, and her castle and the lands around it shattering into shards floating in a purple void.

In the midst of this chaos, Vanitas falls, and Noé leaps after him, something Jeanne didn’t do when Chloé leapt off the cliff. Naenia’s voice tells him he’ll “never reach” Vanitas and that there’s no hope, but Noé does his best to ignore it, and ends up beside Vanitas once more. They’re soon joined by Roland, who comes out of nowhere with other Chasseurs to protect the unwitting townsfolk.

Speaking of Jeanne, the final act of the episode centers exclusively on her journey from vampire whose loving parents were beheaded as traitors to her conversion into a Bourreau—an unthinking, unfeeling tool. The only problem is, when sent to kill Chloé those thought sand feelings all flood back. When she fails, she’s sent into a long slumber until “the war ends and all can live in peace”.

Jeanne laments that all she can do now is her duty as a bourreau, finishing what she couldn’t finish by offing Chloé. But awakening her from her forced stoic trance is Vanitas, who stands before her and says it’s not too late, either to save Chloé or herself. By restoring Faustina’s body Chloé rent the very fabric of the world. Now it falls to others to try to piece that world back together.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Senpai is Annoying – 10 – Buns, Basketball, and Baths

The most inscrutable character in Senpai has to be the eccentric, mischievous Tsukishiro Mona. She’s such a mystery I kinda want a segment that explains her more, though like the alien in Alien (or the Cylons in Battlestar) perhaps the less known, the better. All we know is, she can get away with grabbing a dieting Sakurai without fear of HR reprimand, inadvertently shoving Sakurai chest-first into Kazama, an innocent bystander.

The next segment threw me off a bit because Takeda seemed not to recognize Tsukishiro outside of work. Turns out she loves pork buns, and accepts his challenge in an eating contest at his favorite hole-in-the-wall eatery. It also turns out she’s only ever eaten them cold, so not long after biting into one of those steaming beauties, she resigns. When the two talk about it at work, Futaba is left out and feels a little jealous, but Takeda can read her like a book and offers to take her out for more buns.

Kazama is proving quite the catch for Sakurai as it’s revealed he was once quite the basketballer, and so makes the perfect tutor for her brother Yuuto. She arranges to watch the two practice and even makes a lunch, but doesn’t count on Natsumi, Takeda, and Futaba showing up, resulting in a game of Horse that merely turns into a two-hour-long duel between the two basketball aces of the group: Kazama and Natsumi.

Making it clear that she didn’t get to spend as much time alone with Kazama as she wanted, Sakurai orders an end to the contest. Reading the room, Natsumi departs for the bathhouse with Yuuto (whom she’s taken under her wing as a protégé), Takeda, and a sleeping Futaba. That frees Sakurai and Kazama to have an adorable little private dinner of vending machine hot dogs. Honestly these two could read the phone book together and it would be lovely to behold.

In the meantime, Natsumi remarks on the fact that Futaba hasn’t really grown much since middle school (though isn’t trying to be mean about it), while Yuuto gets some seemingly valuable tips from Takeda on getting bigger (eat a lot, rest a lot), only to learn that Futaba does all the things Takeda recommended to him, and yet remains wee. But as Takeda says quite correctly, she’s fine the way she is!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Komi Can’t Communicate – 01 (First Impressions) – [……hic……]

Komi Can’t Communicate is a dazzlingly fresh and new high school comedy in the best tradition Kaguya-sama: Love is War. Instead of two hyperachievers, we have the Most Ordinary Kid Ever in Tadano Hitohito and the Class Princess Komi Shouko, who is so popular in her class that nobody realizes she never talks.

Nobody, that is, except for Tadano, who ends up sitting next to Komi in class, and is knocked out during what must be ordinary break time class horseplay. Komi ditches gym in order to stay beside him until he comes to, which occurs just as she meows to her black cat doll. In what is a pretty fun habit, Komi ends up dashing away at top speed.

But Tadano alone, ordinary kid that he is, comes out and asks Komi if she has trouble communicating. Komi, amazed with his insight despite how blatantly obvious it is, wants to respond verbally, but gets simply too nervous and self-conscious.

But give her some chalk, and she’ll fill a chalkboard with her thoughts. Tanado joins in, and a silent conversation ensues that’s thrilling in its presentation (and ASMR cred!) and ends with Tadano saying he’ll be her first friend and help her get 99 more.

I freakin’ loved this show, and if you have Netflix, you should check it out. It’s a thing of astonishing beauty and quirkiness. The episode drops a bombshell by indicating that making 99 friends is not going to be easy in a school that’s apparently full of unique weirdos, which I guess actually makes Tadano special, since he’s the only “normal” one.

But that’s the fallacy of his assumption of ordinariness: if it were so ordinary to empathize with and reach out to someone struggling to communicate, maybe she wouldn’t have this problem. But in a school of kids either gawking or being gawked at, Tadano actually observed his desk neighbor’s issue and offered to help. This looks to be something special.

Higehiro – 05 – The Mysterious Woman

I love the series that can replicate the same butterflies in the viewer’s stomach that the characters have in a particular scene, such as when Yoshida takes Gotou to his place to see Sayu. They stop at a konbini first, where Gotou prepares an extravagant bag of drinks and snacks to break the ice.

It’s not like there was going to be any melodramatic blow-up between Gotou and Sayu, but the episode is always cognizant of how strange this particular scenario is without going too over the top with it. It’s an episode titled “Reality”, after all, so Gotou and Sayu’s meeting unfolds realistically.

Gotou also has Sayu send Yoshida off on a shopping errand in short order so they can talk in private as two women. Gotou asks simple and direct questions—where Sayu is from, how long ago she ran away—but also knows not to press when she asks a question Sayu isn’t ready to answer (why she ran). Another important question Sayu tries to consider is how long she intends to stay with Yoshida.

Gotou makes clear that no matter how hard or respectable Sayu is, a high school girl cannot escape the high-school girl label, so it’s best to use it to her benefit rather than detriment. Sayu admits that in the process of running she was probably looking for someone to tell her not to run away.

Before Yoshida, the men she let use her body in exchange for a place to stay were only enabling her. “Something inside me just went crazy”, and she couldn’t deny that, at times,  when they wanted her it made her feel good. Then she met Yoshida, who not only didn’t do anything to her, but said he’d set her straight.

Gotou may not have Sayu’s sexual experience, but she’s still a woman who was a teenager and knows how hard it was and is. So shetells Sayu she’s glad she found somewhere safe, and because she knows and trusts Yoshida, she thinks it’s fine to let him be nice to her…as long as it’s the right way.

Sayu knows she shouldn’t run from her past forever, and resolves to face it, leave Yoshida’s, and “go back to where I was”. But Gotou, gathering Sayu into a supportive hug, makes clear she should take her time facing what she needs to face, while accepting the kindness she needs to accept.

It’s such a staggeringly lovely and understated scene of empathy and sisterhood, with superb voice performances from Ichinose Kana and Kanemoto Hisato, it makes what goes on with Yoshida in the meantime that much more disappointing. Because he happens to run into Yuzuha…who has been stalking him and Gotou all night. Yikes!

It’s the first time on this show I didn’t quite buy a character’s behavior. After inviting herself to go shopping with Yoshida, she makes a scene at the station as if Yoshida were two-timing her. While she initially accepted that Sayu was living with him, she deems it “weird” for him to let Gotou and Sayu in the same room on a night she thought he and Gotou were spending the night.

While Yoshida could have cleared up matters rather quickly by simply telling Yuzuha that Gotou wanted to meet Sayu, and that was the sum total reason she went to Yoshida’s place, the fact remains Yuzuha is reacting to a situation she knows far too little abhout to make judgments.

Especially when she questions Yoshida’s “priorities” and doubts whether he actually loves Gotou, she seems motivated by her own jealous rather than genuine concern for him or Sayu. She is right about one thing, however: Yoshida is far too nice…in not more forcefully telling her off!

Before Yoshida returns home, Gotou makes clear to Sayu that she loves Yoshida and isn’t interested in anyone else, while Sayu confirms that Yoshida loves Gotou. Sayu is frustrated by Gotou’s “mysterious woman” act but still offers her blessing. Then Gotou puts some makeup on Sayu, partly so Sayu can feel better after her little cry, and partly to mess with Yoshida when he comes home.

Yoshida walks Gotou home, and learns that she and Sayu have a “hotline” if he tries anything. But Gotou is impressed by Sayu, whom she regards a a great girl. Yes, she’s a little unstable and “doesn’t understand herself at all”—but she’s a teenager, what else is new?—but she thinks it will all work out. After all, Yoshida is known by the bosses at work as the “problem-solver.”

With Gotou making clear her true feelings for Yoshida, it’s lookig likelier than ever that neither Yuzuha nor Sayu have a chance, should the latter end up truly falling for him. As for the introduction of a young man who works at the konbini with Asami , I’m desperately hoping he doesn’t turn out to be one of the men Sayu stayed with.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 04 – Protective Lies and Different Smiles

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I Shaved. Then I Brought a High School Girl Home. is a crap title. It reads more like a cheap hook for what this show isn’t, and so does the show it’s attached to a grave disservice. Hell, it’s not even accurate; his grooming habits didn’t improve until after he invites Sayu into her home. Basically any title would have been better than this. Fortunately, we can abbreviate the Japanese title to Higehiro, which at least rolls of the tongue, and leave it at that.

[Long Title Rant Over]

This week begins with Sayu begging Yoshida to let her get a job, then learning she never had to beg: he’s fully on board with her getting out of the apartment, keeping busy, and meeting new friends. Sayu gets a job at the local konbini, and immediately hits it off with her work senpai Yuuki Asami, who becomes the latest in this show’s much-appreciated procession of kind, thoughtful decent characters who feel and act like real people.

When talk of Sayu’s place comes up, Asami learns that Sayu is living with a man who isn’t her boyfriend, and invites herself over to check the guy out. When Yoshida gets Sayu’s text about her guest, Hashimoto learns Yuzuha also knows about Sayu, while on the other end of the office Gotou looks at the downward slope of the graph on her monitor also serving as a graph for her increasingly left-out mood.

Yoshida’s cramped apartment becomes even more so with the bold and expressive Asami there, but she’s immediately relieved that he seems like a good guy. And as an attractive high school girl, with all the unique experiences they face, her assessment, while quick, doesn’t seem rushed or half-assed. Both at school and work, she’s surely interacted with enough guys to know Yoshida is different.

As she stays for dinner, she also learns that Yoshida is incredibly lucky to share his home with a cute girl who is also a great cook. Asami has Yoshida walk her home, where she reveals she knew he and Sayu were lying about being old childhood friends, and asks him what the truth of their relationship is. Yoshida says not going to lie more, but he’s also not going to talk about things Sayu still wants to hide.

Hearing Yoshida be so considerate of Sayu’s feelings earns him more high marks in good-dudeness from Asami, who agrees to drop the matter and bring it up with Sayu when she thinks she’s more ready. She understands that while you choose who you get involved with, you can’t choose who you can meet, so it’s lucky when you meet a good one.

She’s certain both Yoshida and Sayu are good people, and looks forward to seeing more of them. Yoshida, in turn, asks Asami to be Sayu’s friend, just like a good dad. Asami’s only warning to Yoshida is to be careful, as “Sayu-chiso”, as she nicknamed her, is “really good at using different smiles.” Of course, we’re already aware Yoshida is aware of this, as he was able to see through some of Sayu’s smiles last week.

Sayu has a safe, comfortable, and supportive home, a new job and a new friend. The second half of the episode opens new opportunities for Yoshida, and I’m not talking about advancement at work. At the end of the day, Gotou approaches him, draws a bit closer than workplace sexual harrassment rules would probably be okay with, and takes him out for yakiniku.

They leave Yuzuha alone holding two cups of coffee; suddenly she’s the left-out one. Gotou doesn’t beat around the bush: she wants to know what’s been up with Yoshida, between all the time he’s spent with Yuzuha, passing up a work trip, and checking his phone all the time. While he’s under no obligation to answer any of that, he agrees to do so if, and only if, she answers his question: why is she so fixated on him?

That’s when, in between a lot of nervous fidgeting, that she actually likes him. When she said she had a long-term boyfriend, she was lying. Stating she (like Asami) has good intuition, she lied because while she was happy enough to jump for joy upon hearing he liked her, she didn’t think it was time, and was scared it wouldn’t go well.

Yoshida, who actually doesn’t have any reason to trust what Gotou is saying now, oversteps a boundary by saying she can prove she’s not lying about liking him…by sleeping with him. It oversteps because he’s not 100% lying. Only when he sees how flustered this makes her does he say he was only kidding. But she also admits the reason she was worried it wouldn’t work out: she’s a virgin.

Gotou’s behavior, from lying about having a boyfriend and confessing her feelings to revealing her virginity, could all feel like a goofy soap opera if handled improperly. But here’s the thing, it isn’t. None of it is out of left field or simply for the sake of increased romantic drama. It absolutely tracks that Gotou’s lack of experience with sex would make her reluctant to rush into something with a guy she really likes.

Gotou truly did wound Yoshida’s heart with her false rejection, because at the end of the day if she’d explained her true intent he’d have understood; we know that much about him from his interactions with Sayu and Yuzuha. And to their credit neither the show nor Yoshida let her off the hook without a penalty, as Yoshida vows never to ask her out.

Instead, he’ll wait until the time comes when she can ask him out on a date, and he’ll look forward to it. So yes, Gotou initially made a big mess of things and hurt the guy she liked. But it wasn’t the end of the world with him, and he’s happy to forgive her as long as their interactions going forward are open and honest. Both Yoshida and Gotou are able to leave that yakiniku restaurant feeling a lot better about things, and it all feels earned.

But wait: their agreement is only half-complete: Now that Gotou has answered his question—and he learns that Sayu has more sexual experience than the adult woman he likes—it’s time for him to return the favor. Instead of sticking with Yoshida and Gotou as he answers, we return to his apartment, where Sayu is eating some pretty bangin’ looking beef stew.

It doesn’t taste “as good as it should” because food always tastes better when you’re eating it with others (that’s an unwavering truth). But especially after experiencing the apartment with both Yoshida and Asami around, being alone still feels lonely. It also gives Sayu’s trauma-addled brain a chance to leak glimpses from her past.

These glimpses include what could be her first sexual encounter along with a very stark POV image of her on a bed with what looks like ejaculate in her hand—and an unidentified crying girl. Sayu starts to blame Yoshida for not coming home and heading off these painful, unwanted thoughts, but she scolds herself for “blaming it on someone else,” not yet ready to assign blame only to those who exploited her. It’s in this state of mind that she receives a text from Yoshida saying he’s bringing Gotou home.

This is it, Sayu laments, this is when I’m abandoned again. She texts back she’ll stay somewhere else (and thank goodness she knows Asami now, as she could stay there if she needed to), but Yoshida texts back that it’s not like that: Gotou wants to meet her. It’s a great way to reveal that, like Yuzuha, Gotou learned the truth from Yoshida, and because she knows him to be a good guy (and no one on this show has watched him closer or longer), is ready, willing, and eager to know more about it, not less.

Yoshida, in turn, is learning like Gotou that lies (and omissions!) can only hurt more than they can help. The only way forward is in the light of the truth. And I never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait for Gotou to meet Sayu. I think she’ll not only be impressed by what a nice girl she is, but understand completely how Sayu and Yoshida ended up in this scenario. I officially love this show. Even at its messiest, it’s brimming with good faith and empathy and I am here for it.

 

Higehiro – 03 – Fated Encounters

Sayu has a dream about a past night she spent with a man in exchange for a place to stay. She lies under him passively, her eyes devoid of their usual glimmer, making no noise except to say “yeah” when he asks if it feels good. It’s not a love scene; it’s a transaction scene, depicted in all its awkward frankness. Sayu wakes up in her own bed as Yoshida dozes away in his. The glimmer is back in her eyes, but there’s also worry.

When Yoshida heads off to work, all Sayu has are household chores and her thoughts. And her thoughts are constantly asking why Yoshida won’t touch her. Shouldn’t he want to, at least a little? All the other men did, and took what they could. We learn Yoshida turned down a business trip, and his male co-worker assumes it’s because he has a girlfriend.

That prospect upsets Mishima, who asks him out to a movie after work. On the way out he and Gotou nearly walk into each other. Seeing him leave with Mishima, Gotou wears a look I’d describe as…left out?

Long before Yoshida returns home, Sayu is simply out of things to do around the house, so she has nothing but those lingering, worrying thoughts. Even though Yoshida hasn’t touched her like all the other men, she still believes he’ll kick her out when he doesn’t want her anymore.

When he texts her that he’s going out for a movie with a colleague, Sayu decides to stalk him…just a little. She happens to be watching just as Mishima finished talking to Yoshida about fated encounters, both the ones in the sad movie and ones in reality. Mishima is certain it’s better to realize that it’s fate the moment it happens, rather than months or years later.

While Yoshida isn’t 100% with her on this line of thinking (one, because he considers her a co-worker and friend first; two, he’s a bit dense), Mishima thinks she’s having such an encounter with him now, and doesn’t want to let it go. He’s taken aback when she hugs him, but the hug is all Sayu sees when she rushes off.

She doesn’t see Yoshida rebuff Mishima; not that she’s going to give up on him anytime soon. When Yoshida comes home to find Sayu’s phone but no Sayu, his first worry is that she was kidnapped, not that she ran away because she saw him with Mishima.

Even though I knew her running away would be a distinct possibility, I was still hugely relieved to see she didn’t go far; just to a nearby park to think. Heavy on her thoughts is how Yoshida looked when Mishima hugged him, how different it was from how he is with her. It made her jealous, but also reinforces her worry that once a guy as kind as him finds a girlfriend, she’ll be abandoned.

But this episode deals with three fated encounters: Yoshida and Sayu, Yoshida and Mishima…and Sayu and Mishima, who happens to find Sayu in the park looking forlorn (and out of place!) before Yoshida does. She sits with her so she can think without being bothered by a cop, and asks what’s troubling her. She’s not in a fight with her “parents”—i.e. Yoshida—as “they’re unbelievably nice”.

Rather, there’s something Sayu can’t tell “them”, or they might abandon her. Mishima tells her that fear can freeze you in place, but it can also spur forward action. In her book, the latter way is the better one. From what she’s heard, Mishima thinks whoever this is believes in Sayu, so she should believe in them and say This is who I am! This is part of me! Will you stay with me anyway?

Of course, Mishima is speaking from her experiences with Yoshida, who just happens to be the same person Sayu is talking about. Mishima learns this when Yoshida arrives at the park. And from the way he treats Sayu—like a worried-sick guardian would treat his lost kid—it’s clear Sayu and Yoshida have some “family stuff” to discuss. So she takes her leave, but insists that Yoshida explain himself later.

I love how low-key and empathetic Mishima’s reaction is to learning Yoshida is looking after a teenage runaway. She knows she doesn’t have the whole story, and while she very much wants to hear it, it’s not the time or place, so she’ll wait until it is. She doesn’t jump to conclusions or express premature outrage.

When Yoshida and Sayu comes home, Sayu takes Mishima’s advice, stops standing in place, and steps forward … in her black underwear … towards Yoshida. She refuses to dress before they talk. She again mentions how her breasts are big for someone in high school. She presses against Yoshida, and asks again if he wants to have sex her, like all the other men wanted to.

When pressed (literally) by Sayu, Yoshida admits that of course he finds her extremely cute and attractive. Sayu is flattered by his praise, and explains that this is the way she decided on to be able to live without going back home. She knows there are disadvantages to an adult having a teenage girl around, and so thought there must be some kind of advantage way to make up for that.

At first, she hated using her body in that way. But while she was doing it with someone she also felt she could be herself; that she was needed. The advantage she provided to the other men made her feel fulfilled. Maybe in her dream, when she said ‘yeah’ when asked if it felt good, she wasn’t lying. It felt good emotionally for there to be what she saw as a balanced give-and-take; something for something.

But ultimately the disadvantages would win out, and she’d get kicked out. However many times this happened to Sayu, she’s now of the mind that her crushing uneasiness won’t be quelled unless Yoshida sleeps with her. So she asks once more, if it won’t upset him, if he’ll do so. Yoshida gathers Sayu into a solid but thoroughly platonic hug, and make it clear that sleeping with someone he’s not in love with would upset her, so the answer is no.

Once she’s dressed again and they’re seated at the table, Yoshida calmly rejects Sayu’s assertion that she “hasn’t done anything” for him in return to justify keeping her around. Again, he tries to reorient her belief that only sex can pay for the roof under her head and make up for the disadvantages of having her there.

He admits he’s changed since she came. He takes better care of himself. They eat and talk about nothing special. His apartment feels like a real home with her there, and a place he wants to hurry back to after work. Just having her there has made his life more fun and more rewarding. She doesn’t have to do or say anything special to maintain that atmosphere; she just has to be there. That’s it.

Saying this moves Sayu to tears. Yoshida realizes that he wasn’t doing himself or Sayu any favors by thinking he could change her back into a “normal teenage girl”, and that there was nothing more to it than that. Denying her transactional mindset and sexuality only heightened her anxiety about properly paying him back for his kindness.

Acknowledging the role of sex in Sayu’s life up to this point was a crucial step in acknowledging Sayu herself, just as making it clear that sex with her is neither wanted nor required establishes firm boundaries. It sets him apart from all the other men, thank goodness.

Thanks to Mishima, Sayu was able to break their stalemate of unspoken tension, and was able to learn from Yoshida not only why he didn’t want to sleep with her, but why just being there was enough for him. Now that they’ve bared their hearts and cleared the air, they can begin truly living together, like a family. It’s an honest, beautiful, and heartwarming catharsis between two lonely souls who claim to be pathetic, but are actually inspiring!

Talentless Nana – 07 – Just Girl Talk

When Yuuka scoffs at Nana’s barb, Nana tries a different tack, stating “Humans don’t believe the truth. They believe people.” Even if Yuuka knows what Nana tried to do, Nana has the trust of the others, while Yuuka is someone who screws her dead boyfriend. So Nana proposes a deal.

She’ll keep Yuuka’s dirty secret and even read her beloved Shinji’s thoughts if Yuuka releases her. Because Yuuka is “a hopeless romantic” she falls for the ruse, and Nana says Shinji is thinking “Kill Nana”, which Shinji later confirms is the true, though Nana was again simply bluffing. Bottom line, she gets the hulking Shinji off her back and flees into the woods.

During the ensuing nighttime game of cat-and-mouse, Nana gains crucial intel on Yuuka’s powers. Yuuka needs a”relic” (an item the deceased has touched) to raise someone. This culminates in her having a whole pile of weird stuff under her bed, and Nana is chased not just by Yuuka and Shinji, but a whole zombie army composed of dead students and teachers.

The presense of so many dead people ont he island suggests that the “Committee” Nana serves didn’t tell her everything, but she’s too busy trying to survive to give that the thought it deserves. That brings us to Yuuka’s other weakness: her zombies, including Shinji, only “work” during the night.

Nana proves that theory by putting her life on the line, locking herself in Shinji’s cabin where zombies are lying in wait. They fall asleep once the sun rises over the horizon, so she’s safe for the time being, but then Yuuka locks her in the cabin for the day, content to finish the job once the sun is back down.

When Yuuka and Shinji return to the cabin after going to class (during which time Kyouya mentions how the clasp of Yuuka’s necklace is damaged and loose), Nana is nowhere to be found. There’s a nice double fake-out when I figured Nana was pretending to be the zombie girl with a similar hairstyle, but that was a red herring.

Nana not only managed to escape from the cabin, but gets the jump on Yuuka as she’s carrying a dormant Shinji during the next sunrise. Then she pulls the real relic Yuuka uses for Shinji from her back pocket. The necklace was a decoy; the scrap of a test is the real thing. And now that it’s in Nana’s possession, Yuuka is in her pocket.

Nana explains that while it looked like she was panicking and barricading the door to the cabin to seal herself in, in reality she was removing screws from the lock, then covering it with tape so Yuuka wouldn’t notice. That’s why she was able to escape the locked room…it wasn’t really locked. She then replaced the screws before Yuuka and Shinji returned.

When Yuuka offers to do anything for Nana, Nana is perhaps a bit too cruel in saying “I’m a cat person…I don’t need another dog,” referencing Michiru. She then has Yuuka return her needles, but drops the scrap of paper off the cliff anyway. With no more relic, Yuuka will be unable to revive her undead boyfriend…he’s gone forever. But that’s not the end of the story.

Nana is curious why Yuuka chose something so flimsy for a relic for someone so important to her. Breaking down the details of Yuuka’s story about their movie date and ensuing fire, she determines that Yuuka and Shinji were never boyfriend and girlfriend; that Yuuka was merely a stalker, and she set the fire to kill the girl he was going with.

This sends an already crazed, despair-ridden Yuuka fully off the deep end, but Nana doesn’t bother pushing her off the cliff. Instead, she kills her with a needle, and the phone confirms she saved 500,000 lives by doing so. Her greatest threat thus far has been eliminated, but in the process a lot has been revealed about just how little she knows about the people who hired her. She could well be struggling and fighting for the wrong side!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 03 – Not Your Usual Bath Episode

Tsukasa is impressed to find Nasa has a fully-stocked fridge, but her opinion goes down a peg when she learns he cooks only for optimal nutrition and minimal waste, and after exhaustive research determined the only thing he should ever make is hot pot!

She remedies that monotony by using the same ingredients to whip up an eclectic feast that shows her hubby that cooking can and should be as much art as science. Nasa even references Food Wars while watching his wife work her culinary magic!


After breakfast, it’s time to hit the bathhouse, but Nasa’s taste in toiletries (i.e. the bare necessities) again fall short, necessitating a quick stop to the store for skin toner, serum, and lotion. Nasa is amazed at the complexity of a woman’s skin grooming routine, as it explains both why her skin is so beautiful and why she smells so nice.

The extra characters dam finally opens this week as we’re introduced first to Kaname, who despite being a year younger than Tsukasa practically runs the family bathhouse with her sister (who is Nasa’s age). Naturally, someone who’s known Nasa for years is shocked that he’s suddenly married, but even more upset that he hasn’t properly proposed, or bought Tsukasa a ring, or planned a ceremony!

When Nasa brings up the fact all of those things are wasteful and inefficient, Kaname, wise beyond her years, responds that’s irrelevant. No one will hold him to account if he doesn’t make those gestures, but he still has a primary responsibility to make his wife happy however he can.

Nasa assures Kaname he’ll do just that, because, and he proclaims this loud enough for all to hear, he loves Tsukasa. She comes back to grab the toiletries from him just as he’s saying this, and while she tells him it’s embarrassing, it also makes her happy. Her delivery and face are enough to make both Nasa and Kaname blush!

Once in the bath, Nasa is soon further teasted by Kaname, who for some reason has to clean the part of the bath where he is. She overheard his childhish monologue about this being a “bath episode”, but thankfully that’s not what he or we get. Sure, Kaname gets a good look at Nasa, but that’s nothing new; they go way back.

While there are subtle shots of legs and cleavage, the fan service is kept to a minimum, and instead Tsukasa is introduced to Kaname’s older sister Aya, who is gorgeous but easily mistaken and confused, and has a low opinion of herself, as she repeatedly promises to kill herself for walking in on Tsukasa’s bath.

She ultimately offers to make up for it by washing Tsukasa’s back, during which time she likens her skin to “silk” before questioning why the secretion of a worm is appropriate compliment, then goes too far in the other direction by saying her skin is like “an IPhone X,” which I’ll just say is a really good joke!

Nasa dreams of when he was laid out on the pavement bleeding to death in the cold when he suddenly wakes up in a massage chair to the cold feeling of a bottle of milk on his cheek, put there by his wife. Then Tsukasa watches Nasa and Aya interact, and witnesses the blatantly easy chemistry and bonhomie between the two.

Aya, for her part, isn’t aware they’re married; she just knows they’re “family”, but Tsukasa understandably gets a little self-conscious, as despite her quirks Aya is a true beauty. When she mentions Aya’s looks, Nasa proceeds to gush about Aya. He noticed the change in mood, which he chalks up to the fact he and Tsukasa just walked past a church where a wedding is taking place.

Because of this, when Tsukasa comes right out and says it would be nice if “he called her pretty”, he mistakes it as being in the context of being a bridge in a wedding gown at a ceremony. That means Tsukasa doesn’t understand his response—that he needs to think about it, and even runs off to do some research and “make the impossible possible!”

It’s the first misunderstanding between the two, and yet nothing that should cause bad vibes going into next week. Instead, there will be bigger fish to fry, as a straw-blonde girl in a huge limo has found Tsukasa, someone she’s apparently been seeking. Marriage is all about balance, so after Tsukasa met Nasa’s people it’s only fair for him to meet Tsukasa’s!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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