Sarazanmai – 09 – Only the Bad Ones Survive

Things go from bad to worse in the Azumi Sara comedy of errors. While trying to free Prince Keppi from ice, he slides out into the street, where he’s shattered by a passing otter-aligned Dekotora truck. Not a great start! Still, with all the comedic musical stabs, it was clear Keppi was probably going to be fine in the end. After all, he’s a magical creature!

Enta, on the other hand? Not a magical creature, just a boy who was shot by the police. Since Mabo and Reo brainwashed all the other cops, they won’t listen to his story, and instead place all the blame on Chikai. Tao sees Enta on the news, he leaves Enta in Kazaki’s care. Tao, meanwhile, is the only one who can stand with his big brother. As expected, through extremely whimsical means Sara manages to reassemble and thaw Keppi.

Enta’s sister Otone eventually convinces Kazaki to finally face Enta and try to talk to him, and to his surprise, Enta is alive and well…only in Kappa form, thanks to the newly-built Keppi springing into action right away. There’s a catch, however: there’s a ticking clock on Enta’s kappa cap, indicating when he’ll die. If they’re going to save him, they’ll need dishes fast. Time is of the essence.

Once off the ferry, Chikai meets up Masa with a former little bro in his gang who knows the truth about Tao killing the boss years ago. After hanging around with him for a while, before they depart Chikai kills him because he was “to good to survive,” and when he’s confronted by another gangster, Chikai is surprised to find Tao has a pistol of his own, and is providing covering fire for his escape.

To drive home the fact that Mabo and Reo are not your conventional two-dimentional villains, the latter is excited to have been reunited with the former until he catches him being worked over by a desirous doppelganger; a mirror of the desires within Reo. The real Reo resolves to take back the real Mabu with his own strength, suggesting he’s not in lockstep with his otter kin.

When Kazaki collects a dish from his room, Haruka is awake, and asks him if he’s leaving again. Kazaki doesn’t sugar-coat things; he may be going into danger, but it’s to help Enta, whom Haruka recognizes is someone more than deserving of help from his brother for everything he did for both of them. Haruka also produces a drawing of Kazaki playing soccer that he drew with Enta, and Kazaki suddenly remembers meeting Tao when he was little.

Tao, meanwhile, follows his brother as far as he can, before he realizes that even he isn’t safe from being offed once his usefulness is at an end. That time seems to arrive when Tao catches up with Chikai, only for Chikai to pull a gun on him. Before he can kill Tao, he’s shot by the other gangster from long range, who is, in turn, shot by Chikai before he collapses.

Turns out Chikai was wrong; it’s not always the bad ones who survive. Or is he? As he lies dying and Tao weeps on the roof of the suddenly very funereal-looking ferry, memories of their brotherhood flash by, showing a loving Chikai and Tao who were always there for one another, even as Chikai grew darker and more troubled, Tao never ceased to stay beside him.

In Chikai’s pocket is a photo of their family with everyone scratched out by Sharpie except for Tao. As terrible a person as he was, Kuji Chikai wasn’t always that way, and he never stopped loving Tao. But now he’s gone, and Tao has a choice.

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Fruits Basket – 05 – Rescuing the Princess

This episode’s cold open moved me to tears. Tooru’s grandfather has informed her that his house is sufficiently ready for them to move back in. Just like that, her new life with her unique new friends has been snatched away from her.

There’s a palpable atmosphere of gloom and emptiness to the scene in which she tells the others, before realizing she hasn’t started dinner. Then, while in the kitchen, her mom suddenly walks in the door, and she’s in her old kitchen, making dinner despite suffering a fever.

When she tells her mom she couldn’t just stay in bed while she’s working so hard, her mom simply hugs her, and says sometimes it’s okay to be discouraged or selfish, once in a while. It’s as if she almost did too good a job raising her daughter!

When the kettle whistles she’s brought back to the Souma house, and declares that no, she’s okay. It doesn’t matter if she can get discouraged, she won’t get discouraged. Gramps’ newly renovated house may well be fine; and definitely better than her tent!

But for someone who’s come so far in so short a time, it feels like moving backwards, and that she’s deferring her happiness in order to go with the flow. Trying to convince herself she and the Soumas can’t be family when they already are just that.

It’s heartbreaking and yes, tear-jerking. It remains so as she tells herself she was never the brightest bulb, hearkening back to grade school when she played in the “Fruits Basket” game that gives this series its name, and in which she was cruelly excluded by being declared an onigiri.

She declares it foolish to ever believe she could join the Fruits Basket group of Zodiac animals that is the Souma clan. But she’s wrong, you see. She’s foolish to think she was or is foolish. It’s when she’s welcomed “home”, where her grandfather can’t even get her fucking name right, when I thought to myself it can’t end this way.

I’m not alone, as a melancholy Yuki and Kyou recall all the good times they had with their dear friend Tooru, whom they allowed to depart without any resistance, and suddenly sport defiant looks on their faces. They’re on my side; they’re not gonna let it end this way.

Every second Tooru is in that hellish house with those trash people, it made my blood boil. Being asked to hurry up and unpack her meager two shopping bags of effects. Her mother’s older sister hiring a P.I. to investigate where Tooru was living to protect her son, who’s going to be a police officer and can’t have any bad apples in the family mucking that up. Calling her sister a bad seed and declaring “like mother, like daughter.” Tooru’s asshole of a cousin, leering at her while asking if the men she lived with did anything indecent.

Gramps may confuse Tooru with his daughter, but he’s still sharp enough to slap his would-be cop punk of a grandson for speaking to “Kyouko” that way, and condemning his family as a bunch of “unpleasant people”…which they most certainly are! Go Gramps! He concedes that he has to put up with them, but tells her that she doesn’t. Her late father said Kyouko deserved to live where she could “spread her wings,” so if there’s a place where she’s happier, she should go there.

Still, Tooru resists. She doesn’t deserve “more.” She has to be grateful with what she has. She’s “blessed”. She shouldn’t say “I want to go home,” and home not be her gramps’. She can’t say “I didn’t want to leave!” If she did, that would be selfish, and mean she’s too soft on herself? “Yes,” replies Yuki, suddenly in the living room, dazzling the stage.

Flashback to before his surprise appearance; he and Kyou are taking out their frustration on each other, as per ususal, with Shigure in the middle. Yuki notices the note with Tooru’s address on the table, and excuses himself to take a walk. Kyou has the same thought, but is just a step behind.

He catches up, and after walking around in circles, remember the exterior walls of the house aren’t finished. They knock on the door but no one answers, then watch the scene we just saw unfold and wait for the right time to swoop in. When that moment arrives, Yuki is there, followed closely by Kyou, who escorts her out while Yuki grabs her things and calls her cousin a lowlife.

Kyou tells her he’s been on edge since the moment she left, and now knows why: she didn’t want to leave. It’d piss him off to indulge someone’s daily selfishness, but in Tooru’s case, it’s okay once in a while, repeating the words her mother said to her. So she finally lets herself be selfish, and declares she wants to go home to where he and Yuki and Shigure are.

Yuki and Kyou take her hands and do just that. Finally, in the Fruits Basket game of her life, the onigiri has been chosen. Her new tribe may not be perfect, and their house always on the verge of being destroyed by familial strife, but she’s home, with her family, where she belongs. As the cameras pan up from the exterior of the house to the dusk sky, it’s never looked more beautiful.

Fruits Basket – 04 – Boarish Manners

That meek, soft-spoken girl at the door who wants to see Ryou? Uh, she’s not so meek once she sees him for the first time in four months. She delivers upon him a beatdown the likes of which we’d yet to see if this series, far beyond his sparring with Yuki. Turns out that’s just how Souma Kagura expresses her affection…with extreme prejudice. Her two-sided personality is voiced by the supremely talented Kugimiya Rie.

Kyou’s two years older, self-professed fiancee (based on a promise he made at knife-point when they were kids), Kagura demands to know where she stands, and doesn’t like how there’s another woman living in his house, albeit one who can’t hug him without making him turn into a cat. Since they’re both Soumas and Zodiac animals, she can hug him freely.

Kagura is clearly much stronger than Kyou, and so basically rolls himself into a ball and endures her savage beatings, but he dares to silence her when she starts mentioning his “true form” to Tooru. As someone who hasn’t yet found her first love, Tooru can’t help but feel a little jealous that Kagura loves someone as deeply as she does.

Repairing the substantial damage to Shigure’s house takes up much of the day (especially with Shigure and Yuki pointedly not helping), and before long, Kyou’s stomach starts to grumble. Tooru offers to start dinner, as is routine, but Kagura stops her in her tracks. Tonight, she’ll be the one to feed her beloved Kyou. The resulting feast reduces the food supply in the fridge to nothing, but as seems to be Kagura’s M.O., she got a little carried away.

As good as the food looked, part of me expected it to taste vile or some such, but nobody even gets to eat any of it, as Kyou snaps at Kagura when she says it’s ready, and she responds by driving him through the floor and onto the feast, ruining it all. With no other food to cook, Kagura heads out to the grocery store in a huff.

It isn’t until she’s at the checkout that she realizes she left her purse at home, but Tooru bails her out by paying for her, and the two women walk home together. When asked, Tooru specifies her “love” the sign of the Cat more than overt romantic love for Kyou himself, and is “humbled” by the extent of Kagura’s love.

Here we have another example of Tooru not judging someone as volatile as Kagura, but rather believing in her and her long-standing love for Kyou. Kagura in turn thanks Tooru for coming for her, and the two make hamburger steaks together. This time, when everything is ready, Tooru climbs up to the roof to tell Kyou.

Up there, she tells him how lucky he is that someone cares for him and worries about him so much—not surprising, coming from someone who was loved by her parents, but lost them far too soon.

She also brings up peoples’ dreams, whether Kagura’s dream of marriage to someone she can truly embrace, to Kyou’s love of martial arts. Tooru sees another side of Kyou as he lights up talking about martial arts. It’s clearly not just about beating Yuki, but becoming better and better at it.

When Tooru gets Kyou to come down to eat, Kagura presents him with a hamburger steak a little different from the others: his has a fried egg on top, like the fried egg he was drawing in the sand when they first met, which was when Kagura basically fell for him. Kyou tastes his dinner and through his sheepish silence expresses his approval and thanks.

The next morning, Kagura has to leave, and bids Kyou farewell with a big hug, followed by one last beatdown. Kyou says some unkind words, and Kagura responds by punching through the front door…and straight into the chest of the paperboy.

Yuki manages to distract the civilian, but Tooru finally learns that Kagura is the sign of the Boar—very appropriate considering her propensity for charging headlong towards her goals. When Tooru compliments her as the cutest boar anyone could ever ask for, she transforms back into a woman—a naked woman, on Kyou’s back.

That brings us to a cliffhanger that threatens the relative peace of the last four episodes, as well as the status as Tooru’s new home and life. She gets a call from her grandfather, and the contents of the message are enough of a shock for her to drop the gardening books she checked out. Is Tooru doomed to lose everything once more, after an all-too-brief taste of happiness?

Fruits Basket – 03 – The Different Shapes of Kindness

Yuki, Tooru and Kyou’s class decides to do an onigiri stand, and we see again the dynamic between Prince Yuki fangirls and Tooru’s delinquent friends, as well as the fact the class has warmed to Kyou despite—or possibly partly due to—his hot temperament. Oh, and because cute cats flock to him!

Still, when they criticize his idea and accept Yuki’s, he storms off to skulk on the roof. Kyou opens up about his long-held resentment of his “golden boy” cousin, who was always respected and trusted more than him, and excelled at everything he did better and faster than Kyou. He admits if he could be like Yuki, he would be.

That sentiment proves vital to Tooru as she attempts to figure out why these two hate each other so much. She gathers more intelligence when Kyou becomes the life of the party when the class plays cards, while Yuki is off rejecting the umpteenth girl to ask him out. She tells him he’s nice, but closed off to people, and that everyone says a “normal girl” isn’t worthy of him.

It doesn’t sound like a compliment to him, and it puts him in a sour mood when he ends up in Kyou’s presence. The two go at it verbally until Yuki loses his cool and kicks Kyou across the room. All Tooru knows is that this is about more than the fact they’re rat and cat; and probably quite a bit about Kyou waning badly to become the thirteenth member of the Zodiac.

In what feels like a non sequitur of a mini-scene, Tooru falls down the steps at work after her shift is over and encounters a strange blonde who speaks German to her and kisses her before Tooru runs outside. Obviously, we’ll see more of this person in the near future, but all I could do for now was chuckle at Tooru’s extremely flusteredness around someone seemingly not from Japan.

When Yuki arrives to walk her home, Tooru tells him he and Kyou are both so kind, and Yuki flashes a sad smile and turns to walk. Tooru stops him to say he can tell her anything that’s troubling him and she’ll listen and try to help. She’s so passionate about this point she doesn’t notice the drunk salaryman who shoves her into Yuki, transforming him into a rat.

While walking with Rat-Yuki, he tells her his deal with Kyou, which is basically that once the ice is broken it’s easy for him to fit into a group of people, who flock to him just like cats do once they learn the rough edges are only skin deep. Thus Tooru learns that Kyou and Yuki resent each other because they’re both jealous of the ways they’re not like the other. Tooru tells him how kind he is and how that draws people to him too, but Yuki dismisses his kindness as merely self-serving; phony.

When a typhoon suddenly hits, Tooru assists Yuki in protecting his secret base—a vegetable garden—from the harsh weather. Tooru tells him what his mom told her to be, which is a believer and not a doubter in people. When everyone is born they have nothing but desires, but gradually develop their own unique “shape” of kindness; their hearts growing with their bodies and minds. To her, Yuki’s kindness is like a warm, bright candle.

Yuki apologizes for bringing this stuff up, but she assures him she’s glad he did, because it means he trusts her enough to share his problems, and that they’re becoming closer as friends. Yuki promises to try harder to interact naturally with people at school, even if it’s intimidating, because that’s what he wants.

After a night protecting the vegetables, Tooru decides to use some as she spends the rest of the morning experimenting with onigiri in the kitchen. Kyou wakes up before Yuki, but since he’s cat-based he hates the chive filling, and would prefer something meatier. He makes some of his own, showing Tooru that he’s actually a natural at forming onigiri, though he doesn’t think it’s so great.

Tooru disagrees. In fact, she decides to create another metaphor to describe both Kyou and Yuki’s issue, which is not so rare: if a person is a rice ball and the plum is what’s great about them, they have “plums on their backs,” meaning they can’t see them. But people are drawn to both of them, just as all people are drawn to their friends, because they can see those plums. Hence, both he and Yuki are great.

With that, Yuki arrives on cue and force-feeds Kyou a chive onigiri to show him that one politely eats something someone has made for you, even if you don’t like it. Then a knock comes at the door, and Tooru finds a shy young woman outside, asking about Kyou. Could this be an admirer of his, or another member of the Souma clan? Whoever she is, it seems pretty clear she can see his plum!

Tooru could come of to some as overly preachy and poetic this week, but she’s so goshdarn cute and sincere it’s hard to fault her. She had such a good Mama, and duitifully honors her memory by being the best possible person she can be, while sharing the lessons she learned from  her.

For all the loss, grief, and pain she endured, Tooru remains a staunch believer in people, as well as in her ability to help those people. If Kyou and Yuki can’t find each other’s good aspects or make any kind of peace with each other on their own, then she’ll lend them a hand.

Sarazanmai – 08 – Giving Up Something Precious

Where did Kazuki originally get his miçanga? From Toi, years ago, after he shot his brother’s foe. His brother had given up so much for him, he wanted to return the favor, and so gave up soccer, just like Kazuki would end up doing after Haruka’s injury. The thing is, Kazuki doesn’t remember.

That may be part of the equation of why Toi is alright leaving Kazuki and Enta, but it doesn’t mean he’s okay with it. Still, family comes first, and Toi would do anything for his brother. Unfortunately, Chikai is such a selfish jerk that he exploits Toi’s utter devotion to him at every turn, not letting him have his own life. “You need me, I need you.” Neither is true; not anymore.

On the contrary, Toi would be better off if his rotten brother were apprehended and faced justice. He has new connections. Not to be cold with regard to Chikai—he may well genuinely love his brother and wants them to be together. But he’s also an adult who made his choices, which come with consequences.

That he’s okay with Toi getting dragged down with him out of fraternal loyalty is proof of Chikai’s self-serving nature. More proof? Relying on a 14-year-old stranger in Enta to keep him hidden from the roaming Otter policemen. At least during this interaction, Enta learns the truth about the origin of Kazuki’s miçanga, and that Kazuki an Toi’s connection goes back further than he thought.

While the sudden presence of the “bro” of the guy Chikai (though technically Toi) killed wanting revenge seems rather sudden and contrived, when Chikai tosses Enta in the line of the guy’s sword, it’s Strike Three; dude should be in jail.

Thankfully for Enta, Reo and Mabo rescue him from the gangster, and then Reo shoots said gangster dead. Two other police hear the shot, but he and Mabo use special otter pins to brainwash them into telling the story of their choosing.

In a theater, Keppi consults with Sara on the Otter situation, and Sara unveils an apparatus that will flash freeze them alive upon capture, all to get back “Dark Keppi.” It’s interesting to see these two work so closely together, and to see Sara’s intermittent extreme clumsiness on display as she sneezes from pepper and accidentally kicks Keppi into the device, freezing him.

When Toi calls Enta to say his farewells, Enta tells him he knows about the miçanga, but that Kazuki doesn’t realize it’s Toi who gave it to him. Toi doesn’t think it matters, nor is there any reason to tell him, and says goodbye, wishing Enta and Kazuki the best as the Golden Duo.

When Toi calls Kazuki, he tests him by saying the same words he said years ago about having to “protect the connections he has.” Kazuki assumes, quite wrongly, that Toi is leaving because Enta betrayed them and stole the Dishes of Hope.

That makes Enta’s next encounter with Kazuki fraught with a great deal of anger and sadness over the misunderstanding. Even though Enta returns with the dishes and urges Kazuki to hurry up and help him get Toi back, Kazuki is still burning from Enta’s betrayal, and won’t believe or even listen to another word he says.

This is how, on the same day his friend Toi leaves his life, possibly never to be seen again, Kazuki puts all the blame on Enta and disowns him as a friend. To make matters worses, Keppi is nowhere to be found and thus can’t protect them when Reo and Mabo show up in the park.

Reo pulls out his pistol and shoots, and Enta takes the bullet for Kazuki…a love bullet! As the cops leave with the dishes, Mabo tells Kazuki he may still have time to save Enta’s life, and Enta comes to sprawled over Kazuki’s lap, and laughs that he couldn’t even joke about ever hating him before passing out again.

No doubt unsure what else to do, Kazuki calls Toi, but Toi is already on the boat out of Tokyo with his brother, and doesn’t bother answering. One imagines if Kazuki texted him that Enta got shot, he might ask the boat to turn around, but Kazuki doesn’t text him, so he doesn’t know how dire things are back on land.

With Kazuki a definite emotional wreck, Enta possibly dead, Toi on a boat and Keppi an ice kappa-cube, the Otters couldn’t be in a stronger position, nor could the good guys be mired in a deeper abyss of despair. Where does Sarazanmai go from here?

Sarazanmai – 07 – Back to Who He Was

We check in on Mabu as he’s undergoing some kind of semi-sexy “maintenance,” which makes sense considering we’ve seen that he has a mechanical heart that I believe runs on desire. Mabu and his partner Reo seem more distant than ever.

Meanwhile, Kazuki is now to cherishing his connections: those with his friends, his parents, and of course, his totez-adorbz bro. He doesn’t even accept his mom’s sachet, telling Haruka to hold onto it for him. You can tell his folks are relieved Kazuki is acting more like he used to: cheerful, upbeat, and magnetic.

It’s a triumphant moment just to see Kazuki joining Enta at their riverside practice spot; more so when Toi decides to join the soccer club, a heart once thought cold sufficiently thawed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the other two and their acceptance of him, delinquent history and all.

While the kappa boys are on cloud nine, Reo surveys the ward for potential zombie kappas alone, in the dark. In a flashback to just after the siege of the Kappa Kingdom, he learns that his beloved partner Mabu was gravely wounded, and but for the grace of the Otter Empire’s Chief “Otticer” of Science and Technology, would have shuffled off this mortal coil.

The lads are shocked to find the practice spot has been vandalized by trash (like Dr. Kappa cans) and paint, but immediately set to work cleaning the place up until it sparkles, employing the same teamwork they would have used playing footie.

But the next day, the mess is back, and just as bad, and Toi gets a foreboding call from his brother, informing him his latest job went south and they’ll have to leave town. The timing can’t be a coincidence, can it?

While I initially thought Toi was vandalizing the spot on the sly, my suspicions evaporated when I saw how genuinely disappointed he was that he had to go, and his gratitude when Kazuki suggests they collect the one more Dish of Hope needed to make five, and use them to help Toi and his bro.

When Toi asks Enta why he’s okay with this arrangement, Enta states that the way he sees it, Kazuki’s present wish is to help Toi. Almost on queue, the potential source of that fifth and final dish arrives in the form of a “Balls” themed Kappa Zombie, reported by Sara (who goes on lovey-dovey strolls with Keppi) with an E.T. visual reference.

But when they all meet in Keppi’s park, he senses something is amiss, and sure enough, they discover the four dishes they hid under the ground tile have been stolen. Keppi suspects the Otter Empire, and he transforms the trio into kappa to do their thing, sticking with the plan to collect a fifth dish.

The Kappa Zombie’s Shirikodama reveals he longed to be kicked, either like a ball or in the balls—or heck, both—by his girlfriend. In the Sarazanmai that follows his defeat, the culprit behind both the practice spot vandalism and theft of the Dishes of Hope is revealed to be Enta, who is jealous of Kazuki’s increased attention towards Toi.

Enta’s treachery is dastardly, but easily explained: just when Kazuki is back to the way he was before Haruka’s accident, Enta has to share the guy he loves with someone else; someone he feels has neither put in the work nor been around long enough to deserve such outsize attention; at least compared to him.

Speaking of being “back to the way he was,” that’s how the New Mabu describes himself on the rooftop when Reo sees him for the first time since his injury and operation. But Reo’s reaction is immediate and intense; this is not the Mabu he knew; he would never look at him the way this Mabu does.

Mabu may have been given a mechanical heart that enables him to live on, but as Reo said earlier in the episode, everything he says is a lie. And of course, consistent with Kunihiko’s love of wordplay, uso is Japanese for “a lie” but can also mean “otter”, as in kawauso.

All this backstory deepening the Otter Cop characters is very welcome. As for the large monster with very Keppi-like pink eyes that ominously yells “daaarknessss”…well, I think I’ll just need to tune in next week to figure out what that’s about…

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 06 – WE HAVE THE MEATS

With Ao’s father having an apparent bout of writer’s block, Ao accompanies his managing editor Yabe Souichirou to a festival full of meat and boobs…for data gathering. There, Ao encounters Miyabi (despite her slight bust size) and Takumi, both of whom are working at the event.

Thus, Ao worries that the two are a couple. Miyabi, ever the opportunist, sees Yabe for what he is: a much better catch than Takumi. Still, as she considers Ao and Yabe to be a thing, she is content with Takumi.

Yabe and Ao are both a little off when it comes to interpreting things, which means Ao lets her dad-inspired dirty imagination run away with itself regarding Takumi and Miyabi. In reality, Takumi isn’t interested in Miyabi at all.

Once he’s on his break, he seeks Ao out, both because he wants to clear up any misunderstanding about himself and Miyabi, and because, frankly, he’s jealous of Yabe being so close and familiar with Ao. Whether it’s prudent for him to literally sweep Ao off her feet away from Yabe so he can get some time to talk with her…is another matter.

Still, once he and Ao are alone, he makes it clear he only cares about her, and is running out of patience. He must feel she’s strung him along long enough; if she’s interested, she should communicate that. If she’s not, she should say so and give him the opportunity to move on, whether it’s with Miyabi or anyone else.

As far as Takumi is concerned, there’s no one he’s particularly interested in other than Ao. Ao feels likewise…the two just have to find some way to end up on the same wavelength. Unfortunately, considering we’re only halfway into this story, I suspect more bumps in the road to follow.

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 05 – Be Kind to Virgins

Now, I’m not quite sure where Ao is when she passes out in the bath, leading to Takumi rescuing her and taking her home. After all, the love hotel didn’t accept high schoolers, which is why Miyabi fails to bed Takumi. Ao can’t believe Takumi hasn’t slept with scores of girls, prompting him to finally confess his virginity.

The announcement has a profound effect on Ao, as she now sees him in a totally new light. Far from fearing him as another normie man, she resolves to be nice to him since he’s a virgin, and even assumes she knows more about eroticism than him simply due to her father’s line of work.

Ao sees Takumi as so little a threat all of a sudden, she agrees to go to a restaurant to study English with him. When she later asks if he really wants her to be his first love, she ends up rhetorically and literally backed against a wall. Her whole facade of superiority collapses and she’s forced to flee in tears.

That’s when she spots Miyabi in a restaurant skulking and attaches herself to her, just like she used to when they were little kids, Ao got teased, and Miyabi was always there for her. Miyabi may have it in her head that they’re rivals now, but when push comes to groin-kick, Ao still considers her a friend.

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 04 – A New Challenger Approaches

After waking from a recurring dream where a younger Ao is teased by her peers for the origin of her name (which is messed up enough) things only get worse for Ao, as her father presents her with a gaudy envelope left by a young woman. Inside is a photo of the girl in bed with Takumi.

Ao doesn’t understand why he’s chasing her if he already has a woman…unless he wants a threesome (he doesn’t). But his soccer senpai says Takumi attended to a mixer and claims he “went home” with one of the girls there. The “confirmation” leaves Ao a wreck…though her father didn’t help by painting the girl as resembling one of his “insatiable beauty” characters.

The girl in question turns out to be Takaoka Miyabi, one of Ao’s classmates in grade school who knew her raunchy name origin. Miyabi makes it plain to Ao: shit or get off the pot. Correction: just get off the pot; she wants Miyabi and she detests women who string men along, like she thinks Ao is doing

Of course, Ao isn’t doing that: her delaying is the result of her struggling with feelings she’s never felt, doesn’t understand, and which have been warped by her unorthodox upbringing. When Takumi calls her to assure her nothing happened at the mixer, Ao has already made up a narrative of what happened—and what’s happening—in her head.

So she tells Takumi not to talk to her at school anymore. He doesn’t, and avoids her, which neither of them like, and Miyabi swoops in and snags a date with him.

Everything would seem to be going to plan for Miyabi, who is, ironically using the very “manual” written by Ao’s dad, under a female pseudonym, that he also offered to his daughter. There’s just one problem: Takumi has no romantic interest in her, is concerned with Ao, and she can tell.

Fate itself seems to favor Ao when she and Takumi end up together in a haunted house—though it’s so dark they don’t realize who each other are until simulated lightning strikes reveal it. But their fight continues, as Ao insists Takumi find Miyabi and continue on his date.

Later that night, Miyabi is determined to take Takumi to a hotel and get a real picture with him; the one she sent Ao was simply photoshopped. Her impressive ‘shopping skills aside, she can probably no doubt sense Takumi’s distraction from Ao…and so asks what he’s going to do about her.

Takumi doesn’t know because he’s not sure whether Ao likes him or not, but the way he describes her flaws as things he’s not bothered by makes it clear he’s not over her yet. So Miyabi tells him Ao doesn’t like her, and is merely being “cocky” making him wait for her answer. But she assures him that her emotions and intentions are clear.

Quite the stirring soap opera hot pot we have simmering here! I must say I wasn’t expecting such a cliffhanger, or for a half-length episode to be packed with so much story. What will young Takumi do…take the easier route with a willing Miyabi, or try to make up with Ao and, in doing so, provide a means for them to gain more insight into each other’s feelings?

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 08 – Wind, Lightning, and New Fire

If you’ve ever worked at an office, you have a pretty good idea of the atmosphere of the first half of this week’s episode. When it’s dark and stormy, suddenly its darker outside than in in the middle of the day, there’s a strange cozy feeling to the office, occasionally someone’s sunroof will be open, and you have to remember to SAVE YOUR WORK often, lest a power outage claim the building.

It’s much the same at the office where our four otaku work, but we learn that Hirotaka is afraid of lightning (or rather, traumatized by years of having the power go out while he’s in the middle of gaming). But when he remembers many years ago when he answered the door during the storm, Narumi was on the other side of the door. Then, as now, she puts him at ease, and he her.

Hirotaka is considerably less at ease when during a night of drinking his ability to make Narumi jealous by flirting with other girls is cited as a virtual impossibility. Hirotaka remembers being jealous of the guy Narumi dated, even to the point of getting an ear pierced that probably didn’t need it.

As Hirotaka comes to the always-dueling-in-public Kabakura and Koyonagi, curious what they do when they’re not arguing, Narumi is at Starbocks (Naoya’s eyes still swollen from sensitivity training earlier this week), wondering what a real date is; all she and Hirotaka do are the same things they’d do if they were good otaku friends as before.

Well, both seem to feel uncomfortable about that at the same time, as if the flames below their seats had finally made that seat uncomfortable enough to get up out of it. Just as Narumi is expecting another “at-home” date of reading and/or gaming, Hirotaka asks her out to do the things she used to do with her previous, normie boyfriends.

Citrus – 09

It’s a given that Matsuri would lose the Battle of Yuzu, and that she’d lose for one simple reason: it’s not a battle, or at least it’s not supposed to be. Life isn’t a video game and it isn’t zero-sum.

While that can be unsatisfying and frustrating for someone so seemingly adept at “playing the game”, it reveals that Matsuri’s “game” is actually very limited, specialized, even stunted, and that there’s a lot more for her to learn, much like Mei and Yuzu.

For now, however, Mei simply concedes the first round, with a longer game plan that’s a lot clearer than I thought, but with no guarantee of success. Matsuri tells her to buzz off or she’ll leak the photo of them kissing, and just to twist the knife, orders Mei to go on a date with one of Matsuri’s old creepy “texting buddies.”

Mei knows how much Yuzu is looking forward to the Christmas party—she can hear Yuzu gushing to Mama from the hallway, but Mei tells her she must decline…”extra council work that can’t wait.” When Yuzu tries to persuade her to reconsider, Mei tells Yuzu to be with Matsuri, stating “that girl needs you.”

The next day after school, Mama Harumin almost inadvertently gets Yuzu to discovr Mei isn’t working with the school council when she suggests Yuzu help out with the council if she wants to party with Mei later. Unfortunately, Matsuri intercepts Yuzu on the way to the office, and insists they go on their date together. Heeding Mei’s words last night and goes along.

So, round two goes to Matsuri as well, and that’s a win, right? I mean, she’s on a date with Yuzu and Yuzu alone, while Mei is sleeping with some creep! Well, it’s not that simple. When Matsuri expresses her distaste for the frequency with with Yuzu talks about Mei, she loses her cool and reveals the her plan, trying in vain to convince Yuzu that Mei is a slutty little liar.

In hindsight, Matsuri should probably be ashamed of herself for thinking Yuzu would react by shunning Mei and running into her open arms. Then again, at this point in her emotional development, winning, and beating Mei, and anyone else between her and Yuzu, is more important than how Yuzu feels.

Round Three is ALL MEI. Yuzu may not have seen what Matsuri was doing before, but she’s sure woke to it now, and excoriates Matsuri for trying to hurt Mei, the person who “looked at her the most”, even urging her to pay more attention to Matsuri.

“Relationships aren’t games,” Yuzu yells in the full restaurant, not giving AF who hears. “Don’t sum them up with cheap words like winning and losing!” Dayum Yuzu, coming through in the clutch.

Turns out Mei didn’t have to sleep with anyone; and Yuzu manages to find her at the meeting point. She runs to Mei and hugs her, in tears over what Mei went through, or more precisely, what she let Matsuri put her through.

The three share the train ride back. Matsuri is still thinking in terms of winning and losing, (and let’s be honest, Mei DID win here) but at least tries to correct herself from that kind of talk.

The reason Mei won is that she and Matsuri are so similar, seeking love everywhere while hating those around them, closing their hearts, and refusing to accept anything. It left Mei empty, as empty as Matsuri must have been feeling.

But she didn’t count on a “meddlesome person” like Yuzu entering her life and giving her unconditional love even when she didn’t ask for it, filling a bit of that emptiness.

Matsuri is rightly impressed by Mei’s recklessness, but Mei trusted Yuzu enough to believe that as soon as she got wise to Matsuri’s games, she’d come running to her side, and that’s just what happened. Matsuri leaves the two, but before she does, whispers in Yuzu’s ear that Mei really likes her, before loudly, jokingly suggesting a threesome in the future. Frankly, Matsuri got off pretty easy here.

That night, Mei insists on having a slice of the cake Yuzu worked so hard to make for Christmas. Yuzu calls her stubborn, but Mei replies that’s who I am. Just as Matsuri had to learn that relationships aren’t only about winning and losing, Mei has to learn to be more open and honest to Yuzu.

And the truth is this: Yuzu makes her heart race, just like Mei makes hers. But there’s things inside Mei that will please her, and things that will terrify her. Bottom line, if she’s still adamant about some kind of romance, Mei is game, but Yuzu will have to take and accept all of her, including the warts, and be content that she isn’t going to change, any more than Yuzu should.

Citrus – 08

Matsuri continues to Be The Worst when Mei tags along on her “date” with Yuzu, which Yuzu never meant to be a romantic date. Matsuri loudly embarrasses her about wanting to be a couple and have sex, while Mei mostly keeps her distance and lets Matsuri do as she pleases…for now.

But Mei’s presence alone is enough to enrage Matsuri to the point she decides to use it for a fresh bit of blackmail, which Mei is unusually vulnerable to due to her dad’s side of the family and position at school.

When she confronts Mei and tries to goad her into slapping her, Mei kisses her instead, “taking back” the kiss Matsuri stole from Yuzu. This surprises Matsuri, but only entertains her more. In any case, she has her incriminating photo.

Matsuri then takes off on her own. Mei feels responsible, but Yuzu doesn’t blame her. It gets colder, and they hold hands as they walk home. I love how Mei’s come to appreciate Yuzu’s warmth in the winter.

I don’t love how Matsuri didn’t go home, but wanted to creepily watch them from afar. Why? And aren’t all of them going to catch their death with such few layers out there?

Mei has apparently never celebrated Christmas, so Yuzu is excited to get her involved in their traditional family-only party. Hime shows more maturity by telling Mei to enjoy herself, while Harumin, who was barely in the episode, is playfully jealous she can’t join either.

As Yuzu makes the preparations, both culinary and stuffed bear-related, Mei works overtime after school so she doesn’t leave too much for her subordinates, and that’s when Matsuri shows up, no doubt to threaten her with the photo of them kissing.

So far Matsuri has been totally incapable of driving any kind of meaningful wedge between Yuzu and Mei, and that’s a good thing. Here’s hoping her string of failures continues and she’s left alone and miserable on Christmas and every other day.

Or maybe, if she eventually gives up these cruel and childish games and decides to change her awful ways, she can be rewarded with contentment in her friendship with Yuzu and maybe even Mei as well…But I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

Overlord II – 07

As “Momon” contends with mounting expenses for his various ventures, Gazef (who considers Ainz his savior) seeks out Climb, the princess’ bodyguard. He may have come from nothing and is young and inexperienced, and Gazef seems certain there’s a ceiling to his ability, but Climb is still someone who can hold his own against Gazef in battle, which is more than he can say for most other fighters.

Climb needs to be strong. His Princess, Renner (voiced by The Heroine herself), is called a “monster” by her own older brother, the second prince. There is all manner of wrangling and under-the-table deals between the royals and nobles and Eight Fingers in this kingdom. As such, despite noble warriors like Climb and Gazef, it’s a kingdom slowly rotting from the inside.

Princess Renner, one of the kingdom’s few principled, moral leaders, seeks to cut out that rot, but without any kind of military force of her own she needs willing swords and shields. She has them in the elite adventurer group Blue Rose, who we were introduced to last week burning Eight Fingers’ drug fields.

Renner welcomes Climb to a meeting she’s having with members of Blue Rose, who are preparing to hit other Eight Fingers targets. Renner doesn’t want Blue Rose’s Lakyus Aindra to sully her name and that of her families in such activities, but she has little choice, as she can’t very well send Climb out alone. Instead, Lakyus will “borrow” Climb.

Meanwhile, in the mansion seemingly occupied only by Sebas and Solution, the former has made Tuare a maid, much to the latter’s chagrin. Solution does not like humans and doesn’t see Tuare’s presence as anything other than a nuisance at best and a threat to Ainz at worst.

When unsavory parties arrive who wish to get Tuare back from Sebas, and they give him until the day after tomorrow to surrender either her or the “lady” of the house, Solution. These guys are obviously scum, but they and Solution are alike in one important way: neither of them give a shit about Tuare’s well-being.

Only Sebas does, and since only 41 or so people in the whole dang world are stronger than him, Sebas would normally get his way, and Tuare would remain safe. But even he can’t be everywhere at once, which is why when he goes for a stroll to think things over, Solution breaks protocol and contacts Lord Ainz to report the possibility that Sebas has turned on them.

That seems farfetched to me, in that so far all he’s done is demonstrated his empathy for humans and been a Good Samaritan for a woman who had nothing and no one else. If anything, if Ainz hears the whole story he’d find a way to applaud Sebas’ actions. Is Solution overreacting, or does she sense something Sebas a mere human such as myself cannot?