Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 12 (Fin) – Her Skills, His Goals

After the big blow-up with Hinami, Tomozaki backslides hard into old habits and then some, as he’s even playing Tackfam with a bored look on his face that “really isn’t him.” He also failed to notice that he’d left poor Fuuka hanging by not looking at his phone for two days.

When he immediately texts back that he’ll go with her to pick up Andi’s new book, his sister acknowledges he “must be going through some stuff”, and to hang in there. While it’s a shame she never got a name, his sister (ably voiced by Hidaka Rina) struck a fine balance between typical imouto brattiness and sincere concern and quiet support for her big bro.

For his bookstore date with Fuuka, as with the fireworks date before, Tomozaki is determined to be his “real, unvarnished self”, ditching the task-and-goal based game mechanics Hinami had thrust upon him, which did nothing for Fuuka. Still, as he looks at his re-disheveled appearance in the mirror of the cafe restroom, he can’t deny that meeting Hinami’s goals made him happy too.

In keeping with his desire to remain real and unvarnished with her always, Tomozaki tells Fuuka how he’s still a little mixed up. He reveals how he had a coach teach him how to play the game of life, but how speaking to her with canned topics felt like wearing a mask or cheating, and asks if he should continue improving his skills.

Fuuka explains that when it’s easy to talk to him, she can picture the things he says clearly, directly, and honestly in her head, like she’s reading a novel. When it’s harder to talk to him (or most other people), the images lose focus. It’s no secret that she treasures books immensely, so for him to be able to have that same ability to project imagery into her head is surely a big part of his appeal!

But it’s more than that: when they first started talking, the images were in black-and-white; a “sad and lonely world”, but which made her think they saw the world the same way. She loves novels because the images they send have always looked more beautiful and colorful than the real world as she sees it. But more lately, the images Tomozaki has sent have been full of color too.

Fuuka is glad he’s working hard to change himself, and believes that if there’s someone in his world—a “magician” that gave it those colors—than he should “treasure” that person. After all, those colors have begun to convince her that she too can still change how she sees the world.

Fuuka’s sincere and heartfelt words inspire Tomozaki to make up with the “magician” who gave his world and words color, while not conceding to her own black-and-white view of it. Just getting her to agree to talk again is a little mini-battle in and of itself, but Tomozaki is victorious and gains an audience with her, partly because he’s persistent, and partly because part of her probably wants to make up too.

After meeting, he takes her to the very storefront from where she first revealed to him that she was NO NAME and they began their elaborate master-and-apprentice dance. There, he tells her why he loves Tackfam: the way he could put aside his own weakness, pitifulness, and self-hatred and pour his soul into the game, giving it color.

Hinami helped show him ways to control the game of life so it began to shine with color too. He wants to be a controller in that game, not just the controlled. Hinami shuts him down, dismissing his “this is what I really want” talk as being “drunk on idealism” and “wallowing in sentimentality.” But…but…if he’s saying his “true desires” actually exist beyond those hollow constructs, she’ll need him to provide proof.

In a lovely inversion of their early discussion in which she explained to him the value of the game of life, Tomozaki tells her the proof consists of “many simple rules in combination, intersecting in complex ways that make them harder to grasp”. She won’t find her true desires simply by asking for proof they even exist, but by struggling to discover how she feels and making steady, honest progress.

As someone who believes true desires don’t exist, Tomozaki says she’s only been going through the motions from a player’s POV; without experiencing true, genuine fun. She may be better at playing the game of life, but he’s certain he’s got her beat when it comes to enjoying it. So just as she resolved to help him learn how to play it, he’s going to show her how to enjoy it more than she does now—and in doing so, find what it is she really wants.

Hinami won’t go on this journey with him until he’s given her something to make her rethink her belief that true desires don’t exist, and he has one: She still hasn’t managed to beat him at Tackfam…not once. That’s not due to lack of effort. It’s because his true desires have always fueled his gaming. He knows what he really wants, and she doesn’t.

In the world of Tackfam where they’re both hardcore gamers, he’s Japan’s Top Player nanashi and she’s NO NAME and winless against him. She can’t complain about his “false logic” until she can beat him first, and Tomozaki is confident that if and when she does beat him, she’ll already understand what he’s on about.

Hinami admits she’s impressed by his thoughtful argument, couched though it may be in irrationality. As such, she decides to meet him halfway: not accepting that “true desires or whatever” exist, but can’t say they definitively don’t exist either. If he wants to convince her to come down from that fence, he’s welcome to try. In the meantime, Tomozaki wishes to continue trying to conquer the game of life with her guidance.

She can keep setting goals and he’ll keep working towards them, but from now on he’ll choose which ones conflict with what he really wants. He can’t deny her skills have worked; not when they brought color his life, and by extension, Fuuka’s. But he’ll adopt a hybrid playing style going forward: balancing her goals with his desires. While celebrating their making up by ordering the same salted mackerel dinner, Hinami assigns Tomozaki his next goal: acquiring a part-time job.

Hinami ends up setting him up with a job at the same karaoke parlor where Mizusawa works, where she knows he’ll have an ally to help ease him into the sub-game of Employment. Tomozaki continues to hang out with his new circle of normies, helping (or rather not helping) Yuzu pick out an outfit for her new first date with Nakamura. He gives her sister a strap Mimimi likes, which of course his sister loves because Mimimi does. He and Mizusawa serve their friends while they’re at the parlor singing the show’s theme song.

He also keeps dating Fuuka, who is working on a new novel and excited for Tomozaki to read it and even more excited to hear his thoughts about it, since they’ll surely shine with dazzling color. And he keeps having his debriefing sessions with Hinami, only now thanks to his job it makes sense how he can afford to eat out so much!

The episode, and the series, ends with nanashi beating NO NAME yet again, Hinami stewing with frustration and immediately demanding another match, and Tomozaki gladly agreeing. This, to me, is the perfect set-up for a second season in which Tomozaki and Hinami will be both student and teacher to each other.

While a 2-episode OVA will ship with the Blu-ray, no second season has been announced. But I for one would love to return to the vibrant, complex characters, smart, precise dialogue, and adorable dates of Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki, an unexpected breath of fresh air in a sea of high school rom-coms.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 11 – Shedding the Mask

If Hinami was genuinely scared of the cicada, it was only for a moment. It certainly didn’t keep her from getting back to her feet by herself. No, the ensuing embrace and almost-kiss is only more practice, more training … more lies. Of course! Tomozaki wonders what would have happened had he not dodged her kiss. She probably would have kissed him, but it wouldn’t have meant anything.

How either she or Tomozaki feel about each other wouldn’t factor, because she wouldn’t ever let it. The test of courage ends with Misuzawa reporting that Nakamura and Yuzu agreed to make plans to hang out at some point in the future. It’s baby step, perhaps, but a meaningful one, because neither Nakamura or Yuzu are following a script or playing roles.

Later that night Hinami texts Tomozaki to see if he’s still up, and they review his progress throughout the trip. But they’re interrupted by Mizusawa, who is also up. Tomozaki hides, and Mizusawa has a very important chat with Hinami. Watching Nakamura and Yuzu fumble through their courtship, and Tomozaki fumble through socializing, he can’t help but admire and even envy how goshdarh sincere they are.

They do what they want and getting emotionally involved in everything. He mentions Tomozaki calling life a game, but Mizusawa feels like he’s holding the controller but moving someone else around. Because of that remove, he gets neither hurt nor happy when the player does. He feels like he’s merely putting on a show, and asks Hinami if it’s the same with her.

Hinami responds by saying maybe she is watching from a distance as she goes through the motions. But due to the perfect ideal she represents to everyone, she unconsciously suppresses her real self, and speaks of “one person” she can show her true self to. Tomozaki, listening in, knows that Hinami isn’t being sincere here; she’s just removed one mask to reveal another, subtler mask.

By not shedding all of her masks, Aoi puts Mizusawa in a position he’s not used to: being the sincere one to open up. He’s a high-tier character, but he’s no match for a top-tier. Mizusawa confesses he likes her, and while he already knows the answer, he’s still glad he came face-to-face with what he wanted and gave it an honest shot. One day he wants to know how Aoi really feels, and asks her how long she’ll “stay on that side.”

Hinami would probably have preferred if Tomozaki had stayed hidden, but he can’t, and when he emerges to apologize for seeming to eavesdrop, he explains the “it would be weird to stay hidden”. That’s very telling, because it reflects Misuzawa’s own thinking on the matter after watching Nakamura, Yuzu, and Tomozaki acting with sincerity the whole trip.

Hinami suggests they all head back to the cabins, and is content to pretend nothing that was discussed or heard ever happened. But neither Misuzawa or Tomozaki want to forget. Misuzawa exhibited growth by being sincere and confronting what he wanted. Hinami “wasn’t the slightest bit moved” and simply continued her “perfect performance” by keeping her mask on.

Watching how Hinami reacted to Misuzawa’s sincerity made him realize that he can’t continue to follow Hinami’s training regimen. She tells him to tell Fuuka how he feels after their fireworks date, but to him it sounds like she wants him to put on another show; another mask.

So for his date with Fuuka, he tries something different. He forgets all the conversation topics he memorized and simply speaks to her extemporaneously. It’s a little awkward at first because there’s more silence, but what he does say is sincere.

Sure enough, when asked, Fuuka tells him he’s been easy to talk to all night. His hunch was correct: on their first date, it wasn’t him going off-script that made it harder for her to talk to; it was the fact he was trying to follow a script at all.

Tomozaki doesn’t tell Fuuka how he feels, because he’s not sure yet, and their date doesn’t suffer for his omission, any more than it suffered because he ditched the script. When he meets Hinami at the station, she considers this not only a defeat, but a surrender—taking his hands off the controller.

Immediately, Hinami starts going into ways to minimize the stiltedness and clumsiness of his conversation with Fuuka, and Tomozaki does something he’s never done before: he asks her to stop it. To stop her cold, logical discussion of strategies and countermeasures that totally elide and ignore what he really wants.

Himani remarks that Misuzawa “got to him”, and now he’s being misled like most everybody else by an idea that doesn’t exist—”what I really want”—and being unable to move forward, not mincing words as she dismisses it as “textbook weak-human behavior”. Tomozaki the gamer calls Hinami out for viewing human connections in terms of tasks and goals, saying it’s “weird out of the gate”. But Hinami doesn’t want to hear someone like Tomozaki judging her for her methods.

As far as she’s concerned, abandoning her regimen and rejecting her advice is no different from abandoning his personal development; giving up on progress. She expresses the same disappointment in Tomozaki she expressed for Misuzawa when he dropped his mask, and judigng that there’s nothing more to be said, gives Tomozaki back the button he gave her, asks for the backpack she gave him back at a later date, and hops on the next train.

While I know there hasn’t been a lot of romantic chemistry between Tomozaki and Hinami, that doesn’t mean there’s none there whatsoever. In the spirit of the sincerity Tomozaki has chosen to start living his life and interacting with people, he’s not going to confess to Fuuka willy-nilly simply because it’s the next assigned task. Both he and Fuuka preferred him being his genuine self, warts and all.

By trying to be no less earnest and open with Hinami, Tomozaki thought he could bridge the gap between them. Like Misuzawa, he wants to know what she truly feels and wants behind the mask. But in trying to find out, he called her entire philosophy into question, causing her to retreat even deeper within her mask.

I think losing Tomozaki as a student genuinely hurt her. She saw in both him and Misuzawa kindred spirits who played the game at a remove. Now she perceives herself as being all alone, stubbornly clinging to her ideology. Hopefully Tomozaki won’t shrink before the most challenging boss yet: Hinami’s misguided obstinacy. If her mask can be shed, he still stands the best chance of shedding it.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 09 – The Normiest Summer Ever

Summer break is here, but it won’t be a break from Tomozaki’s mission to master the game of life. It can’t be; it’s their last summer break in high school! His first task—go somewhere one-on-one with a girl who isn’t her—can be satisfied by going to that movie with Fuuka. But for Hinami victory ultimately means him regularly dating Fuuka, and she’ll be setting other goals for him between now and the end of August.

Hinami wants Tomozaki succeeds in his first date, so they have what she calls a “rehearsal date”, in which she texts him places he’ll suggest they go as if he had chosen them, and she’ll speak in a higher register and act like his date. While clothes shopping, she gives him a slightly scratched backpack she bought earlier for a cute button he buys for her. Then they hit up the electronics store and play some Tackfam at the Yontendo display.

It’s here where we watch Hinami openly struggling for once and not being The Best. I emphasize that she’s not acting here; she’s being her genuine self with him, and the pretend date suddenly feels like a real one. He considers their Tackfam playing to be the “best form of communication” for them; it’s when he realizes she’s not just a top-level normie but a dyed-in-the-wool gamer like him.

While having a bite, Hinami tells Tomozaki she already got the OK from Fuuka to give him her LINE ID, which saves him the trouble of asking her in person. Hinami gives him the brass tacks of his message, and Tomozaki bangs it out. It’s a bit lengthy, but it’s earnest and straightforward, so she clears it for sending. And despite warning Tomozaki that sometimes it takes a while for Fuuka to respond, she responds almost instantly with an enthusiastic “yes”—a definite good sign.

Before parting ways for the day, Hinami tells Tomozaki to keep the 4th and 5th open, as she and the rest of the gang are going to have a barbecue and sleepover, ostensibly as a ploy to get Yuzu and Nakamura together. But such a youthful normie event will be a veritable goldmine for Life XP Tomozaki needs to level up. I don’t think that Hinami “pulled strings” to get him invited—I’m sure they were all fine with him joining them—as someone who wishes to master the game, this is a challenge he can’t pass up. He’s in.

First Hinami invites him to join her and Mizusawa for a planning event at Mimimi’s. There, his task will be to “mess with” Mizusawa at least three times, for as she says, “moderate teasing is key to making friends as equals.” It’s a super-clinical, even cynical way of looking at bonding rituals, but that doesn’t make it not true!

Sure enough, as soon as Tomozaki arrives ready for an opening to mess with Mizusawa, he is the one messed with. But when Mimimi requests a change of venue since her grandma is over, Hinami suggests the house of the one who lives closest to Mimimi. That’s Tomozaki, and as a result his little sister and mom totally freak out by the top-tier characters who are suddenly hanging out with their Fumiya!

While playfully searching Tomozaki’s room looking for porn, Mimimi finds a box full of totally worn-out old controllers. He explains that while they’re no longer sensitive enough for Tackfam, they’re still fine for other games. Hinami takes a particular wordless interest in these, actual artifacts of his grueling effort to become the best that she can hold in her hands. No doubt she has a few such controllers in a box in her room too!

Planning to bring Yuzu and Nakamura closer together turns to talk of the future in general, with the knowledge that with exams next year there won’t be as many opportunities to hang out; this summer must not be squandered. Tomozaki successfully messes with Mizusawa thrice. Mizusawa also noticed the hair gel he recommended to him isn’t being used too frequently, and Tomozaki demonstrates why when he applies it: he needs some pointers.

What follows is a very sweet little scene as Tomozaki films himself as Mizusawa shows him the proper way to apply the gel. Mizusawa notes that Tomozaki takes everything seriously, and wonders why he goes to such lengths, with everything from hair gel to Mimimi’s speech. Tomozaki likens life to a game he doesn’t want to lose, and Mizusawa can see, but from his perspective, if life is only a “game”, why not loosen up and enjoy it?

It’s a very enlightening exchange of viewpoints, as the two guys treat the word “game” very differently. When Tomozaki returns to his room with his new ‘do, Mimimi is the one messing with him, using a pen as a microphone to report “something fishy going on.” After everyone leaves, he suggests Saturday the 1st for the movie with Fuuka, which is fine with her.

Now comes the even I’ve been looking forward to since it was first suggested: his big date with Fuuka. Tomozaki is the first to arrive at the meeting spot, which means he gets to see Fuuka before she sees him, and watch her neutral, almost forlorn expression turn to pure quiet joy when she spots him waving to her. Both of them are so happy and giddy this is actually happening, the two freeze up a bit, until Tomozaki says “Shall we?” and they head to the theater.

When Tomozaki mentions her long sleeves, she tells him how she has extremely sensitive skin that burns easily in the sun. He misses an opportunity to compliment her, but at the same time saying something like “I think your skin is lovely” might have made her to self conscious. In any case, Fuuka is so excited upon seeing the movie posters she draws quite close to him, then realizes how close that is an retreats a bit.

Once they’re in their seats, Tomozaki can’t help but look over at Fuuka beside him and blush with happiness. After the film they grab a bite, but as he continues talking about the film in detail, Tomozaki realizes he’s talking too much and not giving her an opening to add to the conversation. It’s here where my stomach started to sink along with Fuuka’s expression as Tomozaki overcompensates by bringing up a string of conversation topics that don’t mesh well.

Worse, he thinks it’s going well when it’s clear from Fuuka’s look that she notices something is off. He realizes this too when she comes right out and says he’s a “mystery” to her, in the way he suddenly swings from being really easy to really hard to talk to. An awkward silence ensues.

Still, and this is key, those moments of awkwardness do not end up sinking the date or their prospects for each other. Instead, while on the train Fuuka clarifies her comments: she didn’t mean what she said about Tomozaki to be a bad thing, but a good thing. She’s never been good at talking with boys, so the times when it’s easy to talk with him represent the first such time. That makes her happy, which is why, without any needed input from him she tells him she wants to go out again sometime.

Tomozaki reports his great victory to Hinami over the phone while she’s painting her toes. She urges him to reflect on the “hard to talk to thing”, which really comes down to lack of experience on skills on both his part and Fuuka’s. The more time they spend together, the more comfortable they’ll get talking with one another.

Hinami may well have expected Fuuka would want to hang out with Tomozaki again, so she already has the ideal event for their second date: a fireworks show on the sixth. Tomozaki texts Fuuka, and she again gets back to him immediately with a yes. But before that he’ll tackle the barbecue and sleepover with his normie friends. I for one can’t wait for either!

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 08 – Number One Idiot

When Mimimi nods off while studying at home, she dreams of a middle school basketball match in which her team lost to Aoi’s. At school, Mimimi nods off and has to be woken up by the teacher. She’s overdoing it, again. Losing the election to Aoi only made Mimimi want to work harder to beat Aoi at something, anything, but what if she just…can’t?

In Fuuka’s only scene alone with Tomozaki—their movie date either hasn’t happened yet (good) already happens off-camera (not good!)—she tells him how it seems Mimimi is trying to compete with Hinami. No one told her, she can just imagine it. Because she’s a writer she can imagine all kinds of people’s feelings…and yet Hinami’s motivations are a mystery to her.

That Fuuka makes such a distinction between these two overachievers adds depth to her character as someone with unique insight, as well as underscores Tomozaki status as a perplexing outlier. I hope we get to dive into the underlying reasons for her actions, but this week focuses on the more immediate matter of Mimimi’s rapidly growing problem.

With both Fuuka and Tama agreeing that something’s not right, Tomozaki confronts Mimimi after school, making clear he’s coming to her as a friend who fought Aoi beside her. When he expresses his worry she’s overworking herself, Mimimi acknowledges that is sucks so bad she wants to quit…but will probably suck more if she does.

As a hardworking sore loser of a gamer, Tomozaki can relate to her position of not wanting to quit before putting in all the effort he can. So he says he’ll support her desire to keep going. At his next meeting with Hinami, Mimimi is the prime subject, and not in terms of a task Tomozaki is to complete. Hinami recalls the prefectural basketball game in middle school that might have started all this.

That said, Hinami doesn’t feel its her place to tell Tomozaki the details, so he relies upon Yamashita. Mimimi had put a middling team on her back to reach the prefectural final, which was mostly a battle of two aces. When they lost, Mimimi’s teammates were just glad to have gotten that far, while she was utterly crushed.

While Yamashita tells him this, we watch a montage of Mimimi continuing to come apart at the seams, studying and running so much she keeps falling asleep in class. When clouds gather and rain pelts the track, Tomozaki and Tama are relieved, because it means Mimimi can take a much-needed break. And yet who should be out there but Hinami, still practicing in raincoat, unwittingly rubbing her dedication in Mimimi’s face.

Tomozaki manages to catch up to Mimimi when she’s trying to slink home, and tells her what Yamashita told him. Mimimi tells him how she attended the nationals where Aoi came in second and couldn’t hide her bitter disappointment. The loss in itself didn’t cause Aoi to cry, but hearing the name of the school that took first place did.

While Mimimi changed her behavior to match the mood of her team, Aoi didn’t. It was then that Mimimi started to feel like “just an ordinary person”, while Aoi “shined” in a way she could never replicate, and yet could never stop trying to replicate. When Mimimi learned Aoi was her classmate in high school, it was when Aoi herself approached her, having thought a lot about their game back in middle school.

Mimimi has always been grateful for Aoi and looked up to her, but she’s also been the person she least wants to lose to, since doing so makes her feel so worthless. After all, Hinami is clearly of the opinion that if you’re not first, you might as well be last. So when Tomozaki tries to assure Mimimi she shines “pretty brightly” already, the words don’t reach her, and she makes an excuse to leave.

Turns out the timing of Tomozaki’s attempted second pep talk couldn’t have been worse, as Mimimi had already decided to resign from the track club. In their next meeting, Hinami says she and Tomozaki are the same in that they’re at the top of their respective games. But unlike Hinami, Tomozaki doesn’t see it so much as competing against the world as against himself.

After a morning in which both Hinami and Mimimi publically apologize to each other over her club resignation that seems to bring the whole class down, Tomozaki goes out on a limb and very publically asks Mimimi if they can walk home together…along with Tama. He wasn’t able to get through to Mimimi in a one-on-one matchup, but maybe Tama can, so he’ll rely on her.

Mimimi tries to keep things light by talking about how hot it is, but Tama makes things real with five simple words: “Do you hate Aoi now?” Mimimi responds by gushing over just how great and hardworking Aoi is, and how she actually loves her…or at least, she should. But with Aoi beating her at everything, Mimimi as come to feel jealous, and that Aoi’s “in the way”, and even that she wants her gone.

By thinking these awful things, Mimimi feels like she’s the worst, and if she stayed in the club, she’d keep thinking about them, including the notion that if Aoi really cared about her, she’d be the one to quit. Like Fuuka, more than anything she’s frustrated by how and why Aoi can work so hard like that. After hearing all of this, Tama bites Mimimi’s ear and takes her in her arms to comfort her.

Tama tells Mimimi that she can’t be “nothing”, because she’s her hero. Tama likes Aoi just fine, but Mimimi is her one and only hero, and if she wants to be number one, she can rest easy in the knowledge that she’s the world’s number-one idiot! Having been thoroughly cheered up, Mimimi embraces that title by sucking Tama’s outstretched finger and then pouncing on her.

All’s well that ends well, as Mimimi, realizing the error of her decision, re-joins the track club just a day after resigning. Tomozaki notes that her combination of gratitude, respect, and envy for Aoi have mellowed thanks to Tama—although Mimimi’s sexual harassment of Tama seems to have risen…

With Mimimi’s inferiority crisis more or less resolved to a point she’s no longer working herself to the bone, Tomozaki can move on to his own tasks, including giving Nakamura his birthday present and speaking to him for at least three minutes. Nakamura doesn’t make those three minutes easy, as his bemusement over Tomozaki giving him a gift at all leads to clipped, conversation-killing responses.

This leads Tomozaki to improvise in order to stretch out their talking time…by bringing up the rumor of Hinami and Mizusawa dating! This provides Hinami, Mimimi, and Tama a laugh while they’re at a café with Tomozaki after school—but it also leads to them asking Hinami straight up if the rumors are true. She starts with a fakeout, saying they are true, before revising her answer to “of course not.”

Assuming one cour of Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun is all we get, we’re now three-quarters through the series. My hopes for the final four eps include finally getting to see Tomozaki and Fuuka on that date, making more inroads with Mimimi (especially now that she’s in a healthier place), and of course gaining more insight into what Hinami tick. And hey, if a second cour is being considered, I most definitely wouldn’t mind!

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 07 – Fall Today, Rise Tomorrow

It’s time for the campaign speeches, and Hinami controls the crowd as expected. Mimimi and Tomozaki are all ready to hit their key demographics when Hinami suddenly steals all their thunder by promising not only an electric ball pump, but A/C for every classroom.

Tomozaki knows they’ve been outmaneuvered by NO NAME, but Yumi and Mimimi still head out there and do their best, with Tomozaki rigging a Siri-like digital assistant that Mimimi can riff off of in order to amuse the crowd. Mimimi steps away from the podium and leaps into her “Brain’s” arms, feeling really good about her chances.

And then, Hinami proceeds to absolutely obliterate her at the polls, 416-131. That’s like a “U.S. House vote declaring puppies are cute” kind of landslide! It again underscores the yawning chasm between first and second place. Tomozaki joins Mimimi for a commiseratory rooftop visit, but Mimimi maintains an “I’ll get her next time” attitude.

Tomozaki isn’t sure whether Mimimi’s putting on a brave face, but at their next debriefing, Hinami expresses her surprise and pride in Tomozaki’s tactics, even if they were ultimately unsuccessful. Here I was ready for Hinami to be cut down to size, but instead her arrogance is rewarded with an easy and convincing win.

She immediately shifts back into helping-Tomozaki mode, presenting him with the task of asking Fuuka (remember her?) out to a movie. It’s a brief scene, and Fuuka already knows the theater where the movie is playing, but to Tomozaki’s credit he fights through the blushing, maintains eye contact, and asks Fuuka out, and she immediately accepts.

That could be one hell of a lovely date to watch, especially as Tomozaki has found he legitimately likes the Andi novels Fuuka loves, and thus will have plenty to talk about. That is…if he doesn’t stand Fuuka up due to an issue arising with Mimimi; namely that she isn’t able to give up trying to beat Hinami.

Aside from her real talk at the playground last week, Mimimi hasn’t really expressed what she really thinks, but it’s obvious she wasn’t prepared to be beaten as soundly as she was in the election, so acting like nothing’s wrong and working herself to the bone is concerning, not just to Tomozaki, but to her friend Tama.

While they watch Hinami and Mimimi practice around the track, Tama tells Tomozaki how Mimimi went to Hinami for advice on how to best approach Tama, back in first year when Tama had no friends. Hinami’s advice was for Mimimi to approach Tama a little bit at a time, even if it was just playfully poking her face.

After school and practice Tomozaki joins the three girls for a trip to the konbini, where they enjoy their usual dynamic. But then episode ends with the foreboding words “But the next day, Mimimi wasn’t quite herself.” I’m curious to see if Tomozaki can apply what he’s learned to “rescue” Mimimi the way she rescued Tama. I’m also preemptively preparing myself emotionally for the possibility that he’ll stand up Fuuka!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 04 – Standing Up to the Queen

Tomozaki just landed a lucky break. If there was no reason for Izumi Yuzu to approach him, he’d been making his presence known to the point that when he approached her, she felt she could come to him with her TackFam problem, which is really a Nakamura Shuuji problem. Bottom line: Izumi likes Shuuji, and wants to get good enough at the game to take him on. We also learn Shuuji recently turned down the Konno Erika, leader of the Neckties to which Yuzu belongs.

Yuzu invites Tomozaki to her place so he can teach her, and after one match he knows exactly what she needs to get better, starting with learning how to execute a short jump, which is simply a matter of practice and muscle memory. Yuzu is grateful for Tomozaki’s advice but wonders what the deal is with his various poses and gestures…turns out he’s mimicking Hinami’s teaching style without knowing it!

By the time Tomozaki is drawing detailed diagrams of all the moves Yuzu will have to memorize, she asks him: What is all the intense effort even for? He tells her what it’s not for: making friends or winning praise. When Yuzu claims she can’t ever change from her current status of superficially laughing with her necktie-wearing friends, he assures her he is proof that anyone can change; they just need to commit themselves and put in the effort.

While Hinami calls Tomozaki’s break with Yuzu pretty “miraculous” when they meet up for a debrief, she can’t deny he properly capitalized, using what he knows best (TackFam) to really connect with someone. That said, she still wants him to ask Fuuka out on a date, even producing movie tickets for them to use.

The night before, Tomozaki practices asking Fuuka out on the recorder Hinami gave her, showing how he’s learning how to listen to himself and adjust. But he also accidentally opens a folder of recordings Hinami didn’t delete: ones in which she too practices talking. He already considers it amazing she’s so good at the Game of Life; to hear the process firsthand is even more amazing.

Like him with TackFam, no matter how high a level you achieve, you can never stop practicing. But with practice comes the realization that sometimes circumstances won’t always accommodate your plans, nor will practice always inform what to do when it’s go time. To whit: Tomozaki calls an laudable audible: coming clean to Fuuka about having not read any of her favorite author, and thus not yet being ready to read her own novel.

This could have turned out disastrously, but the risk was well worth the reward of starting fresh from a position of honesty. A white lie or misunderstanding rarely forms a strong foundation for a relationship. While there’s clear and justifiable disappointment in Fuuka’s reaction, there’s also the sense she’s happy he’s being so honest. He’s also able to break the news naturally and casually enough not to come off as dismissive or cruel.

Working entirely outside the letter of Hinami’s plan while hewing to the spirit of her training, Tomozaki shows great growth here, while rejecting her “an in is an in” mentality. Yes, the author misunderstanding, got Fuuka talking to him, but so did simply asking Yuzu for a tissue.

He also wisely realizes that to ask her out on a date so soon after basically restarting their friendship from a place of honesty would be overdoing it, so he withholds the tickets for now. If he gets any flak from Hinami, he’ll be ready with a pretty good explanation. However, their next meeting is preempted by Shuuji’s two mates: he wants a TackFam rematch, now.

In the AV room, Tomozaki plays Shuuji while Shuuji’s mates, Yuzu, and Erika and her two Necktie acolytes watch. Tomozaki proceeds to beat Shuuji handily in match after match, but Shuuji keeps asking to play again. He grows more frustrated, even as he starts to improve slightly, to the point he’s able to take out one of Tomozaki’s health stocks.

That frustration creates an increasingly unpleasant tension and aura of desperation around Shuuji, to the point Erika begins to mock him as “weak”, his obsession with a “stupid game” as “creepy”, and that she dodged a bullet when he turned her down. The “stupid game” comment draws the ire of Tomozaki, as does her assertion that all of Shuuji’s hard work and practice amounts to nothing.

The old Tomozaki would have muttered something and not followed through, but this newly Hinami-trained Tomozaki is at least adept enough at the Game of Life to call Erika out for the haughty tourist she is. Shuuji may have been a dick to him all this time, but at least he’s committed to improving and keeps fighting no matter how much he loses. All Erika can do is mock someone else’s effort when she (at least as far as Tomozaki knows) puts in none at all.

Yuzu even has the courage to chime in and call Shuuji’s efforts “beautiful in a boyish way”, despite the fact doing so is contradicting the vaunted Queen of the Neckties. But I have no doubt it was Tomozaki’s earlier words about her ability to change that helped her summon the courage to speak up. Erika slinks away, pretending not to have learned anything, but she did. So did Shuuji, who probably resents Tomozaki defending him but also appreciated it.

Notable for her silence during all this is Hinami, which was no accident. The thing is, while she observed that Tomozaki had things well in hand, I also think she stayed above the fray in order to avoid needlessly upsetting the apple cart with Erika & Co., who would have likely felt ganged up on if she’d joined Tomozaki and Yuzu—an example of maintaining balance through inaction. Regardless, both Erika and Shuuji stop giving Tomozaki a hard time, now knowing better what he’s made of.

At their next meeting over lunch, Hinami asks how things are going with Fuuka, wondering if he’s lost motivation. He assures her he hasn’t, but without explaining the whole situation with coming clean and not wanting to pile on with a date request, Tomozaki pulls another laudable audible: whipping out the very tickets she gave him and asking Hinami if she’ll join him instead.

Hinami’s look of surprise is followed by the kind of proud face a master makes when their student has just done something good. Unfortunately, she’s not free tomorrow (what do you know, she does have other obligations!), but she is free for a movie now. Is it just me, or do these two just make a good couple, full stop?

It’s too early to tell, but I appreciate that Hinami doesn’t go all cliché blushy or tsundere at the prospect of Tomozaki asking her out. Maybe she gets that it’s for more “training”, or as thanks for her help so far. But at some point all these times they’re meeting up one-on-one and having fun will start painting the picture of two people…going out. We’ll see if anything comes of their consistently pleasant proximity, and more importantly, if more people start noticing them together all the damn time!

Crucially, this outing proved Tomozaki isn’t just some automaton carrying out Hinami’s directives, nor does she want him to be. She’s taught him the basics, and it’s up to him to experience how to properly use them and switch things up when warranted. The recording of Hinami also shows that her life game is an ongoing work in progress. I know it’s Tomozaki’s name in the title, but I would love to delve more into Hinami’s growth, and if Tomozaki has anything to teach her—something his recent shrewd freestyling might portend.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 03 – Character Creation, Phase 2

While a plethora of new characters were introduced last week, this episode keeps things simple by narrowing down the ones with whom Fumiya interacts to three: Aoi, Fuuka, and Yuzu. That not only keeps things from getting too scattered but is in keeping with Aoi’s desire to figure out who is best worth Fumiya’s time and effort.

Of course, first thing’s first: making him sufficiently presentable to converse with people. That means a trip to the mall for some new threads, a new haircut, and some lunch conversation practice. Fumiya has learned from the tapes that he has a tendency to mutter; Aoi tells him to use fewer words and rely more on gestures and tone to convey his emotions.

Quite by surprise, Fuuka is a waitress at the restaurant where they have lunch. Refreshingly, Fuuka doesn’t seem necessarily threatened by seeing them together, nor does she assume they’re on a date—she simply hadn’t pegged them as being friends material. Based on little details she noticed during their encounter, Aoi is convinced that Fuuka should be the “first heroine” Fumiya should pursue in his “playthrough.”

At their next meeting, Fumiya proudly reports that one of his small goals was achieved: his sister noticed he was putting more effort into his appearance. While Fumiya feels like he’s relying on “cheats” like dressing like the store mannquin or getting his hair done, Aoi insists that because he’s trusting in her and doing as she says, he deserves at least some of the credit for his success.

That said, Aoi isn’t going to start going easy on him. His next goal is to go somewhere alone with a girl who isn’t her. His related task for the week is to talk to Izumi Yuzu at least twice a day. Why Yuzu and not Fuuka? Because, as Aoi points out, real life isn’t a dating sim. Raising “affection levels” of one girl can raise them for all, along with increasing their innate possessiveness.

Fumiya is still weary that he’s not being “sincere”, but Aoi tells him it’s too early in his progress to worry about that. He’ll cross that bridge when he’s in a more serious relationship. For now, he needs “ins”, however he can get them. Things don’t go too smoothly with Yuzu at first; topics he chooses tend to lead to awkward conversational dead ends. But he keeps at it, and his quota for the week is eventually filled.

While in the library pretending to read a random book while coming up with TackFam strategies, Fumiya is approached by Fuuka, who notices the author he’s pretending to read is her favorite. Fumiya doesn’t correct her, and Fuuka ends up confessing something she’s never told anyone: she’s working on a novel, and would love it if he (and only he) read it sometime.

It’s a lovely little exchange because it’s the first of its kind fo Fuuka as well as Fumiya. Kayano Ai really sells Fuuka’s warmth and quiet enthusiasm, and Fuuka really does seem like a suitable person for Fumiya to pursue, and he has the perfect “in”.

As Aoi reiterates, it’s still too early to worry about “sincerity”; she can tell he’ll use it as an excuse to run away if she lets him. While he filled his quota in talking to Yuzu twice a day for a week, he may feel like he failed, like a battle he loses that results in KO and Game Over.

But unlike games of that kind, in the game of life you gain as much if not more XP by losing than by winning, so you’re better off keeping up the fight than starting over from scratch. That assertion really speaks to the gamer in Fumiya. The losses he tallied against Yuzu weren’t in vain; they got him to at least Level 3, and he can use what he learned from those failures to succeed with Fuuka.

But then life throws him for a loop when he spots Yuzu sitting alone and looking somewhat down. Remembering Aoi’s advice for him to mention something about her clothes or face, Fumiya tactlessly tells Yuzu she looks “gloomy”, but she doesn’t storm off. In fact, she just keeps looking gloomy, and even gets to the point that tears are welling in her eyes when she comes right out and asks him to teach her how to play TackFam.

I don’t believe this is the same kind of “in” as Fuuka’s secret novel reading—it’s possible Yuzu wants to learn to play so she can play with another boy she’s interested in, or maybe she just wants to learn TackFam, period. But the fact Fumiya reached out to her so much in the last week made him a viable person for Yuzu approach with such a request. So it could be an overture for a friendship. We shall see!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 02 – Boosting Social XP

With Fumiya’s goals laid out, it’s time to grind! Talking to three different girls is a steep task for someone who virtually never speaks to any, but Aoi has a detailed plan for  him. First, she’s already chosen to whom he should speak from her circle of friends—a measure of quality control. But she notably doesn’t hold his hand the whole way. He has to get out there and execute on his own.

An added wrinkle is the the fact girls at their school have a choice of wearing either a bow or necktie, and the custom of only the popular girls wearing the latter. Two of the girls he must speak to are with the “necktie team,” which feels like an added level of difficulty. But in his very first exchange with necktier Izumi Yuzu, simply asking her for a tissue, Fumiya does fine; he even interacts with a second girl in bow-tier Kikuchi Fuuka.

Fumiya hesitates in his next interaction during home ec, with the lively Nanami Minami (AKA Mimimi), because the plan said Aoi would be present to have his back, but this also seems like Aoi putting him on the deeper end of the pool to see what he’s got when faced with the unexpected. He ends up lauding Minami for her “empathy” when she says “I get that”, sounding like an old man and eliciting genuine, non-mocking laughter from her.

So far so good, but what happens when the social situation—or “battle”—is complicated by additional “combatants”? First, Natsubayashi Hanabi (AKA Tama) arrives, adding a completely different vibe to the conversation as Mimimi affectionately gloms onto her and tells her “Fumiya is funny!”

Before Mimimi or Fumiya can explain it to Tama so she doesn’t feel out of the loop, the three main “in-crowd” dudes arrive. They’re led by Nakamura Shuuji, whom we know to still be sore over his TackFam loss to Fumiya. Mimimi explains Fumiya’s “joke”, Shuuji dismisses it as no joke at all, and Mimimi puts it to a vote.

Fumiya notices that Tama doesn’t vote, so he also abstains so as not to keep her feeling left out. Finally, Aoi arrives and votes for Fumiya, giving both him and Tama the cover they needed to vote for him. She even uses the opportunity to bring up the fact Shuuji lost to Fumiya, and how his resultant sour attitude may be why he was dumped.

If all this sounds extremely complex, it’s because we’re watching all of the intricacy that lies behind seemingly mundane or effortless high school social interactions through Fumiya’s eyes: as a novice trying to familiarize himself with the game’s  mechanics and and pitfalls.

In their afterschool debriefing in the sewing room, Aoi explains how she wasted no time broached the topic of Shuuji’s TackFam loss as part of a larger effort to avoid Shuuji—who like her has considerable social clout—from being rude to Fumiya and hurting his progress (since it would give others permission to be rude).

Aoi believes that on balance, Fumiya’s first “field practice” was a huge success. He was a little shaky out there, but the conditions were met without cheating. She also has him rely on his own instincts by garnering comments form him. For instance, he noticed Tama seemed “a bit off”, which Aoi chalks up to Tama’s strong will and hesitance to “go along to get along”

Between the vote and debriefing, Fumiya witnesses the interactions between just the trio of Aoi, Mimimi and Tama, and learns why Hanabi is nicknamed Tama (b/c “hanabi” means fireworks, and you traditionally say “tamaya!” when they explode…pretty clever!) We also learn that Mimimi is not afraid of showing affection for her friends, whether it’s glomming on Tama or tickling Aoi’s navel.

Aoi “returns fire” by going in for a kiss—which seems to throw Mimimi off balance—only to gently blow on her lips. Both this incident and the fact Aoi being the only one in class with the “guts” to tease Shuuji further reinforce the reality that Aoi is an elite, “utterly terrifying” player of this game. Like Fumiya in TackFam, if you’re coming at Aoi IRL, you best come correct!

Now that Fumiya has familiarized himself with conversation somewhat, the next step is to get better at it by continuing to recognize the reactions of the girls he talks to, the shifts in mood those conversations take, and become comfortable with adjusting on the fly.

Being able to join in conversations with girls multiple times per day (no one-and-dones here) will also help him make progress towards his medium goal of getting a girlfriend. The more girls Fumiya converses with, the more reactions Aoi will have to gauge whom he should be talking to more. It’s like researching a boss before entering battle to ensure victory!

While becoming more agile in conversation through the accumulation of XP, Fumiya will simultaneously be practicing proper posture. A stronger posture will result in a stronger state of mind, just as confidence can be boosted by drawing on the positive reactions better posture will engender. Aoi clutches Fumiya’s buttock, but not as a flirtation. It’s merely a clinical check to ensure he’s using those muscles properly.

That afternoon, Aoi says she’ll be heading home with two of the three in guys (not Shuuji) and Mimimi, that he’ll be accompanying them, taking mental notes and honing his conversational skills. With Aoi with him this time, she’s able to support him with his “butt exercise” comment, which might’ve clanged to the floor without her seconding its efficacy.

Aoi then throws Fumiya a curveball mid-trip home: he and Mimimi are getting off early, since they live in the same area, so he’ll be interacting one-on-one with her, just like in home ec. Fortunately, Mimimi has no problem with his. On the contrary, she seems eager to help Fumiya come out of his shell even thought she’s unaware of his training, giving him an encouraging pat on the back.

Fumiya and Mimimi casually discuss his glumness and her liveliness, and when he asks if there’s ever times she’s not “all smiling and bubbly”, she says those times are when it’s most important to be that way. He then recalls what Aoi said about the body and mind being liked, and Mimimi can’t help but bring up the fact he and Aoi have been awfully buddy-buddy of late.

Fumiya sidesteps that by declaring Aoi out of his league, though that matter is far from closed. Mimimi maintains he should “let his fun side shine” more often, since he’s shown he’s actually pretty funny when he wants to be. Fumiya explains that fun isn’t the end-all-be-all for him; in TackFam, for instance, he plays because he loves it, and the fun is a bonus.

Mimimi also shows quite a bit of self-reflection when the subject turns to Tama, comparing her “won’t bend or be bent” nature to her “always be bending” attitude. It’s another great success for Fumiya, as he and Mimimi never had so much as an awkward silence while walking together.

As for determining who might be girlfriend material, that remains to be seen, but in their next debriefing Aoi has Fumiya acknowledge that his tendency to speak his mind regardless of the mood of the conversation makes him similar to Tama, who isn’t afraid to speak hers. Aoi believes that’s a strength in both, and Fumiya shouldn’t be afraid to use it.

Like the previous meeting, Aoi asks Fumiya to bring up anything else he learned, and he says he’s become aware that any productive conversation requires specific roles be filled, like different jobs in an RPG party: someone who introduces new topics (like Mimimi) and one who expands on existing ones (like Aoi).

Aoi is glad he’s picked up on this organically, and directs him to practice playing both roles. She expresses her joy with the phrase “HEXactly!”, which she finally explains was the catchphrase of a retro game she loved. She’s so delighted he’s heard of it she breaks out of teaching mode…but only momentarily!

To that end, Aoi has prepared flash cards of conversation topics for Fumiya to practice, and also recorded their meeting so he can listen to the sound of his voice. She also arranges their first Saturday meet-up. The fact she’s spending a day she’s free of club work on Fumiya means Aoi is determined to make her reclamation project a resounding success.

It’s great to see Fumiya not just making steady progress, but for the difficulty level not to be artificially heightened by, say, cartoonishly intractable personalities. At the end of the day these aren’t tough “bosses” Fumiya is being made to fight: Mimimi, Tama, Yuzu, and Fuuka are all nice people who aren’t hard to get along with, and all seem willing in one way or another to give him the benefit of the doubt despite his reputation.

At the same time, I’m thoroughly pleased Fumiya doesn’t need to be dragged kicking and screaming from his morose philosophy. While understandably a bit reticent at times, he’s neither resistant nor stubborn about submitting to Aoi’s prescribed plan. The best way he can show respect to her not inconsiderable efforts is by being a model trainee; a veritable sponge absorbing as much as he can, while not forgetting to have fun. So far, so good!

Rating: 4/5 Stars