The Duke of Death and His Maid – 03 – A Distant Kiss

Bocchan loses a game of pool to Alice, and so cannot refuse when she asks if he’ll accompany her into town for a festival. Because many will be in costume, he’s able to wear a steel-framed suit to avoid contact with both Alice and bystanders. It’s a way for him and Alice to feel like they’re on an actual date out in the world for the first time, even if they still can’t touch.

When they become separated by the crowd, Bocchan demonstrates how despite the rumors around town about a monstrous shinigami, the actual person of whom they speak is actually a kind and gentle young man. When a lost boy clings to his coat, he cheers him up by playing a song on the piano set up in the town square.

Bocchan sheds his heavy disguise to join Alice atop the clock tower, where they gaze at the moon and she tells him the story of another couple separated by a witch’s interference. In the case of the story, the man is on the moon while the woman is on earth.

But the man could be on Pluto and the basic tragedy would be the same as Bocchan and Alice’s; they are together in their hearts, but can never actually touch as long as the curse remains in force.

One night Bocchan gets a note from Alice to meet her in her bedroom (set off from the mansion) if he has trouble sleeping. When he enters to find her brushing her hair while nude, he assumes she has naughty plans for him. In the end, however, between a calming scented candle and cammomile tea, she really was simply trying to help him sleep…though it’s clear she was also hoping he’d get the wrong idea so she could gleefully watch his reactions.

Another night, when a once-in-a-decade meteor shower is to occur, Bocchan is the one to invite Alice to an intimate boat ride on the lake. His true intention is to properly confess his feelings—as opposed to the offhanded ways he’s told her he loves her. Things go pear-shaped when the wind snatches his hat, Alice leaps into the drink to grab it, and he can neither stop her nor help her out of the water due to the curse.

When she tells him straight-up that she’d be fine dying by his kiss, he leans as close as he dares before backing off, not willing to sacrifice Alice for just that one kiss. Alice, knowing he wouldn’t do it, tips the boat so he falls in the water with her. Thankfully, the water doesn’t conduct his curse like it does electricity!

In all the excitement, they missed the meteor shower, but as they both dry off by the fire, Alice says she’ll accompany him to the next one, in ten years. Bocchan is constantly worried that he’s not properly expressing how he feels, but Alice already knows, and feels the same way about him. It’s why she’s stayed with him this long; it’s why she has every intention of being with him in a decade, curse or no curse…but hopefully no curse!

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 02 – Moonlight Waltz

The third member of Bocchan’s family, Rob, makes his first appearance, and proves to be your typical jovial, dependable old butler who might just be a bit long in the tooth for the strenuous work of maintaining a mansion. Even so, he gives it the old college try, which incidentally leaves Alice with little to do but toy with her beloved duke.

She eventually agrees to behave herself and sit quietly as Bocchan plays some of the new piano piece he’s working on, which is indeed both somber and beautiful. Alice’s rush of emotion during the piece precedes the good duke telling her he composed the piece for her; as a reward she leans in to kiss him, her lips stopping only an inch from his.

Bocchan may be relatively content with Alice and Rob, but a member of his original family does come to visit him now and again, treating it like a special service and act of welfare on her part, but visiting him nonetheless.

Viola (Minase Inori in Adorable Squeaky Mode) may not be as overtly honest as Alice about how she feels about her brother—she wants him to break the curse so he can return home—but it’s clear that unlike her mother she does care.

When a black cat appears in the mansion, Bocchan is terrified, not because he’s scared of cats but because he’s scared of killing it if it touches him. So he runs from the cat, Rob mistakes him for the cat, and Alice makes much of the fact the cat tore her dress in just such a way.

They find a note with that cat—”Forgive Me”—that Bocchan takes to mean it was abandoned, as he was. As for me, I wondered if that black cat wasn’t sent by the witch as a messenger; maybe the curse wasn’t intentional? It would explain why it was cast upon a five-year-old boy who no one had reason to curse.

The pièce de résistance of the outing is the ending, as Alice finds Bocchan in the deserted ballroom and the two dance inches from one another under the gorgeous, massive full moon, a scene lifted from a storybook. Like the music Bocchan composes, it’s sad, beautiful, and with just enough of a touch of hopefulness.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 01 (First Impressions) – Ducal Distancing

An young duke (or Bocchan) is cursed by a witch at age five to bring death to any living thing he touches, like the Grim Reaper, AKA Death. He is shunned by his family and exiled to a villa in the woods. His only companion is Alice, the daughter of the head maid who grew up with Bocchan. There’s also a butler, he doesn’t show up in this first episode—bad back!

While everyone is scared of Bocchan and thinks him a monster, only Alice (and presumably the butler) treats him like an ordinary guy. She is absolutely fearless in how close she gets to him, and loves to toy with him by presenting her ample bust or garterbelts because of his innocent reactions.

But behind the playful and occasionally raunchy teasing, there’s genuine affection and devotion behind everything Alice says and does that has nothing to due with the fact she’s a family employee. She is happy when their old childhood friend Phillip shows up, but even when it goes predictably pear-shaped, Alice flatly refuses Philips’s offer to get her a “safer” job, while Bocchan forbids Phillip to disrespect her.

Bocchan has his issues—he’s a little traumatized during every meal due to the unpleasantness of meals with his family between getting the curse and being exiled—but a monster he is not; he really is just an ordinary young man who cannot be touched. Alice is hoping by being with him and treating him with love, kindness, and occasional sexual harassment, they can break his curse together, and he can do what it’s clear from the outset they both want: for him to put a ring on her finger.

As is typical of first episodes of new series that don’t introduce the whole cast at once, I enjoyed the elegance of following just Bocchan and Alice. Phillip and his four(!) bodyguards were a well-timed break from their routine, and while it wasn’t a fun experience, Phillip isn’t an altogether bad person, as he is capable of pitying Bocchan even as he fears his curse.

If you’re not a fan of CGI or canvas-textured backgrounds then this show will not be your visual cup of tea! I’ll admit the characters are a bit stiff and uncanny as they tend to be with this animation method, but like most things it grows on you. One advantage, however, is that the models remain perfectly consistent from shot to shot, and some very subtle hand gestures, body movements, and facial expressions are possible.

These subtleties are crucial in a show all about how close Alice is willing to get to Bocchan without actually touching him, and her acceptance of his wilted white rose—interpreting it through the language of flowers as swearing his whole life to her—was genuinely moving and gorgeously shot to boot. Also, Alice’s azure eyes of deepest summer are mesmerizing to the point you can see why Bocchan cherishes her so.

Hanae Natsuki and Mano Ayumi get the lion’s share of credit for bringing the characters to life and making me care about them right from the get-go. The classy Victorian aesthetic and classical score also heighten the material, while both OP and ED go pleasantly against the grain with more contemporary music and visuals.

I may have just finished a show about a girl teasing a guy, but that turned out to be way more heartwarming and profound than I expected, and I foresee enjoying this new take on the formula as well.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 07 – What Then?

It’s telegraphed from the beginning of the episode: someone who knows Sayu (or is working for them) has found her. There’s no other reason a suspicious black car would keep showing up at the konbini where she works, and Sayu is right to be weary. After all, she’s committed to working towards a future for herself, but hasn’t had enough time to figure out what that might be. Simply going home now would solve nothing.

This week marks the return of Mishima, whom I castigated for literally stalking Yoshida the last time we saw her, but the more I think about it, the more she’s the most realistic of the bunch. She invites herself to lunch with Gotou to express her frustration with her supervisor’s boss: if she’s in love with Yoshida, why is she just sitting around when Sayu could “take” Yoshida from them any day?

Gotou says she simply doesn’t see the point of artificially forcing anything with her and Yoshida. If it happens, it happens, but she’s not going to pretend she can control the feelings of others. Mishima says flat out that Gotou is simply scared to stick her neck out, while she’s far more scared of losing what she could’ve had because she didn’t do anything.

Neither Mishima nor Gotou are presented as the person with the “correct” philosophy…and that’s okay! Anybody who says they have all the answers is trying to sell you something. But Mishima is determined to try her way, and so asks, nay, demands Yoshida’s contact info. Yoshida is taken aback, because he doesn’t consider himself “attractive enough” to be worth giving his contact info for no special reason.

At this Mishima snaps at him for deciding everything by his standards, including his own appeal. She says he has a bad habit of doing what he wants to do while convincing himself its for the sake of others. Then she confesses her love for him (“a little”) and texts him a request to go out for a movie when Sayu isn’t making something special for dinner. He texts back a sheepish “sure”, which lifts Mishima’s spirits.

The next day when Yoshida is off work, he’s just kind of sitting around while Sayu cleans around him. He offers to help, and she pushes him into his bed, tripping in the process and landing on him. Their resulting position is lovingly drawn and lit the way a romantic scene would, and Sayu lingers there before Yoshida asks her to take the wet rag off his shoulder.

After this awkward scene that appears to play right into Mishima’s worst fear —that Sayu has the inside track on winning Yoshida’s heart—Sayu decides to go through a box of stuff in his closet (with his okay…but it’s still hella random!) and finds his high school yearbook, along with a photo of him and his gorgeous senpai girlfriend.

I for one am willing to give both parties the benefit of the doubt regarding the bed incident, but then Yoshida starts talking about how that girlfriend called him “clingy” and that she didn’t want somebody who cared about him so much. Again his standards come through, as he tells Sayu it’s only natural to care about someone, to want them to smile and be happy, and to be the one who makes that happen. Sayu mutters “what about me?”, but Yoshida doesn’t hear (naturally).

Back at work at the konbini, Sayu ends up sharing a shift with her former attempted rapist, which is never something you want. When the mysterious guy in the black Lexus comes in and reveals he’s Sayu’s big brother (and clearly loaded), Yaguchi tells Sayu to hide in the break room and then covers for her.

While I appreciate the show’s dedication to showing the good and bad in people, I really didn’t need this guy performing a remotely redemptive act, and it frankly sours the whole scene, especially when Sayu thanks him. Now, if he actually owned up to what he actually did and earnestly apologized, maybe I’d feel a bit different…but probably not!

As for Ogiwara Kazuto, well…it’s interesting that this President and CEO of Ogiwara Foods is Sayu’s brother and not a parent. I’d also guess he’s about Yoshida’s age. The look on Sayu’s face when she realizes who he was was, and then upon realizing that she may not get to decide when she goes home, is heartbreaking. I’m hoping Kazuto is reasonable and doesn’t just drag her into the car, but Sayu ran far, far away from these people, so all bets are off.

Higehiro – 06 – Doing the Best We Can

Trigger Warning: This episode contains a scene of attempted rape.

With Sayu now working a part-time job, it was only a matter of time before the show’s first truly unsavory character reared their ugly head. Yaguchi Kyouya is that character, and to call him “unsavory” is putting it all too lightly. Just because he and Sayu slept together a few times, he believes he’s entitled not only to know where she lives now, but to sleep with her whenever he wants.

Yaguchi is a truly detestable scumbag in the SAO tradition of scumbag villains: a guy specially formulated to be loathed with extreme prejudice. There are moments when his presence in this show is so out-of-place compared to all the caring, compassionate, and protective people around Sayu, he feels like a caricature.

Lest I forget: Yaguchi and men like him who took what they could from Sayu and then discarded her are not only a crucial part of this story, but all too common in real life. Yaguchi shows no regard for Sayu’s agency or choices, blows past all personal boundaries, lies to her face about “just wanting to talk.” And the worst of it? When he attempts to rape her, she puts everything on herself, fearing the consequences to Yoshida and Asami.

That she’s of the mind that she has to let Yaguchi have his way with her so others won’t get hurt shows how far Sayu still has to go in being able to protect and value herself. And she would have absolutely been raped had Yoshida not taken it upon himself to read her text as a call for help. While I normally detest violence, I feel Yoshida goes far to easy on him; he should have to bear at least a shiner for his transgressions.

Yaguchi is absolutely wrong that they’re the same and the only difference is Yoshida isn’t sleeping with her. Yaguchi is definitely a criminal for having sex with a minor, while Yoshida’s harboring of Sayu is a lot more of a gray area. But worst of all to Yoshida is that at no point does Yaguchi think about Sayu. It’s all about what he can get, and why Yoshida isn’t getting it to.

Thankfully, Yoshida is firm enough to get Yaguchi to promise not to bother Sayu again, but we’ve already seen the value of this guy’s promises. Yoshida knows he may not know if he can save Sayu or how, but at least he’s trying! All the others did was hurt her more. They don’t get to protest his attempts to save her when they never tried.

When he returns to the room to comfort Sayu, she doesn’t know why she got so scared when he tried after they’d done it so many times before. Yoshida simply says that’s normal. She was right to turn him down, did and said nothing wrong, and needs to think about herself more. Seeing her not able to be the normal teenager she should be hurts, but becoming one starts with caring about herself.

The next day, Asami notices that something happened between Yaguchi and Sayu, and when Sayu won’t say anything, she confronts him. He tells the truth about what he tried to do to Sayu, then apologizes after Asami slaps him and leaves the break room, admitting he “got a little rough” (ya think?) Sayu asks why he didn’t tell Asami about them, and he says he promised not to if she brought him to her place. So I guess he’ll keep some of his promises?

Sayu doesn’t forgive Yaguchi—she never should, frankly, unless he shows serious signs of changing—but isn’t “mad” anymore, and is also present enough to make clear to him if he tries anything again she’ll be mad. His assurance he won’t seems more couched in the ferocity of her two “guard dogs” in Yoshida and Asami, but if there’s one quality of this guy I’ll put my faith in, it’s his cowardice, and if that means he really won’t try to touch her again, I’ll take it.

After Sayu’s shift, Yoshida texts that he’ll be at work late, so Asami invites herself over to her place to protect her. She stops by her palatial estate for some stuff, and we learn that she’s the daughter of a politician and lawyer who are almost never around, and Sayu’s the first friend she’s told about her house. By opening up a little about herself, she inspires Sayu to do the same, telling her plainly about how she came from Hokkaido and stayed at various guys’ places, including Yaguchi’s.

She continues that she kept running from place to place and nothing ever changed, until she met Yoshida and then Asami, and realized how “stupid” she was being. Heartened by Sayu opening up, Asami takes her to a special spot where you can see the stars despite still being in Tokyo.

As the two gaze at the stars, Asami tells Sayu more about herself, how she dressed up as a gyaru, but her parents didn’t understood she was doing it for attention she simply wasn’t getting from them. And while she’s expected to follow in her mom’s footsteps in law, what she really wants to study is literature and become a writer. That led to a huge argument with her mom.

That’s when her dad took her to this starry spot and assured her their worries are nothing compared to those stars. But while Asami knows humans are to small to be seen compared to the stars, they still have pasts and futures that matter. She knows Sayu’s past was rough, but she got through it to get to where she is: in a position to choose her future. It’s the second straight week of heartwarming girl talk, only this time between girls of the same age.

The next day after Yoshida comes home early, Sayu tells him that living with him, she’s finally able to start thinking about a future. She just needs a little more time. Yoshida will give her all the time she needs. She may have  met one too many Yaguchi Kyouya’s on the way, but those assholes are but insignificant specks compared to the growing constellation of good people she knows, who care about her and are slowly but surely teaching her to care about herself.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 05 – The Mysterious Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 04 – Protective Lies and Different Smiles

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

[Long Title Rant Over]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Higehiro – 03 – Fated Encounters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Higehiro – 02 – Freedom and Choices

A princess raised in castles is going to act like royalty, like Queen Elizabeth. A princess raised by wolves is going to act like a wolf, like San, AKA Princess Mononoke. Behaviors are learned through social interactions and time. Sayu has apparently lived a life where her choices were few and her freedom nonexistent.

Leaving home only gave her a fleeting freedom, and she eventually had to do what conditions at the time demanded her of her to survive. As a result, she still behaves around Yoshida the way she had to behave around other men with whom she treated her body for shelter. He notes that the smiles she flashes often feel forced, strange, and wrong.

It’s doubly frustrating to him that someone so young had been forced into a situation where she didn’t feel safe not smiling when she didn’t feel like it. He calls her out on it with what I’d call “harsh kindness”, assuring her that even if his home isn’t hers, she’s allowed to be there, and doesn’t have to be “weird” or “lie to him” with those smiles.

Sayu understands what Yoshida is on about, and so tells him that she was thinking to herself why he’s so nice. He reiterates that he’s not being overly nice at all; he’s just being decent, the way everyone should be to each other. She says she’ll try her best not to refuse when he offers her things, or smile when she doesn’t mean it.

But she also points out that those smiles and refusals are habits that will be hard to break, since she’s still not quite used to the unprecedented freedom and choices Yoshida has given her. But through her attitude and the housework she does for him, she hopes to make him think he’s glad she came into his life. Despite everything that’s happened to her, Sayu remains a kind and decent person herself.

While last week focused on the establishment of Yoshida’s new normal at home, here we get a look into his work environment, where his crisper shirts, enhanced hygiene, and shorter-than-usual work days have led to rumors he has a girlfriend. But when his immediate underling Mishima’s code has some bugs in it, and she’s forced to work late, he works late with her, and even gets takeout.

Mishima takes their ensuing alone time to learn that Yoshida doens’t have a girlfriend, and was recently rejected by Gotou. Mishima considers herself “lucky” Gotou rejected him, and wouldn’t mind going out for a beer sometime. Like Sayu, she tells him he’s kinder than most by not simply giving up on her, but as with Sayu, he doesn’t think he’s any nicer than everyone should be.

When he gets home, Sayu is wrapped in her blanket like a Yuru Camp character, apparently angry he’s home late after she cooked dinner. But she follows her annoyed tone with genuine giggling, as she was just messing with him. As she reads manga and he has an after-work beer, he realizes that he really should have a way to get a hold of her.

Sayu threw her old phone in the ocean, and while at the mall she refuses to let him buy a new one, so he does so when she’s not around. Hashimoto, the only other person who knows about Sayu, can tell that Yoshida likes Sayu by the care he’s putting into choosing a case for her. Hashimoto gently warns him that it’s fine to be nice, but he should start thinking about how things are going to go, before she settles in too much, or she falls for him, or he falls for her.

Yoshida assures Hashimoto that that won’t happen, but while romance is out of the question, there are already glimmers of familial and paternal love. Hashimoto didn’t go so far as to say “she’s not a lost puppy”, but he’s right that Yoshida needs to come up with some kind of plan beyond keeping her off the streets.

One day at work, Gotou approaches Yoshida and they end up going out for yakiniku and beer, which she confesses she can only go out for with him, since all other men expect her to be a “sweet, proper lady.” That’s now three women who consider him to be uncommonly kind and understanding to them. One wonders why she’s with the man she’s with if she can’t be herself with him!

Gotou commences an anything-goes Q-&-A between them, starting first by asking if he’s dating someone. When he refuses, she lists all the evidence that he is—leaving work on time, cleaning himself up better—and mentions how Mishima seems to have a thing for him. He repeats that there’s nothing there, because in his give years at the office he’s always been in love with her.

When Gotou caught wind of the rumors, she was bothered by the fact he’d immediately been “taken in by another younger girl.” With the rumor staunched, Yoshida loses some points by asking Gotou what cup size she is. I know she said “ask me anything”, but c’mon, man!

When Yoshida comes home, late again, and not eating the dinner Sayu made again, she can tell he’s feeling down and needs a hug, so she hugs him. Like when she put her hand on his earlier, she does it because she wants to, and because she thinks it will make him feel better. And while in the bath he laments being a grown man cheered up by a teenage girl, it shouldn’t be anything to be ashamed of…ask any dad!

When he presents Sayu with a new phone, we learn he chose the white case for her over the black. White, the color of purity and chastity, yes, but also, Sayu just happens to like white! In that same vein, he didn’t buy it for her as a gift or a sign of his affection, but as a practical means of communication when they’re not both home.

Of course, he also doesn’t want her to worry if he is late. He doesn’t want to do or say anything to make her feel bad. He wants her to have every choice and opportunity someone her age should have. In this and in basically everything he’s done for her thus far, he’s acted like a father.

Yoshida acknowledges that Sayu is a woman, but to him, she’s a little kid. Someone to protect unconditionally. Someone who doesn’t have to force herself to smile to make him feel better. Maybe the endgame, then, is to simply adopt her.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 51 (S3 01) – There’s No Night that Doesn’t End

Where we last left off, Kureno had just revealed to Tooru that not only was Akito a woman. No matter how much he loved Arisa, he couldn’t leave Akito’s side, not even after being freed from the curse—or especially because of that. He further explains that Akito was raised a male from birth because it was decreed by her mother Ren, to whom we are finally introduced.

Ren still lives on the grounds, but as Kureno puts it she has “some…troubles, mentally and physically.” Akito freaks out when Ren even tries to touch Hatori, while Ren insists Akito’s belief that her bonds with the Zodiac animals are real love and eternally unchanging is nothing but fantasy.

Her cruel taunting of her daughter—whom she made into a sun by pure will—causes Akito to fly into a rage, but Ren wouldn’t mind being killed, because it would mean reuniting with Akira, Akito’s late father. In a flashback Akira tells Akito she was “born to be loved”, but to Akira that probably doesn’t mean being venerated as a god.

The thing is, Ren may question whether the Zodiac bonds are right or even real, Kureno, Shigure, Hatori, and Ayame all woke up in tears the same morning Akito was conceived. Before appearing in Ren’s belly, Akito came to them in a dream, and the four kids ran to Ren, who didn’t even know she was pregnant.

From that day, Kureno felt the other self that lived inside him, in his blood, and knew he could never betray her. Even if the bond was unnatural, or painful, he simply could never push away a crying Akito, and so can’t see Arisa. Because just as Akito wounds others, she herself is wounded.

Kureno said all of this to properly explain why he can’t leave Akito ever, and that the choice to stay with her is his alone, not guided by any curse. As he leaves her in the courtyard, the DVD falls out of Tooru’s hands and she cannot move for some time, frozen by the weight of this new information.

Her scarf flies away, she falls to her knees. Rin, her ally in ending the curse, watches this from afar. Kureno explains how he went out for fresh air, gets a vicious slap from Akito, and then the two gently embrace. Then, like a gothic fairy, Saki approaches Tooru, flanked by Megumi, and announces she is “here to save the day. Ta-da.”

After informing Yuki that Tooru is in her “custody” and will be her’s “all night” (phrasing!) Saki prepares a “Nightgown Festival” to soothe Tooru’s troubled soul. She tells Tooru that she was able to detect Tooru crying in a voice no one else could hear, but was deafening to her. Tooru explains how she tried to bring Kureno and Arisa together, to make up for all the things people like Arisa did to help her…but she failed, so she’s useless.

As we see Kyou spot Tooru’s scarf lying in the street, Tooru tells Saki how Kureno is someone who puts others’ feelings before his own. I’m glad Saki’s there to essentially say “look in the mirror…that’s you!”. Saki worries if Tooru keeps taking everyone’s feelings on her shoulders, it will crush her, and her smile will disappear. Arisa enters Saki’s room to add that if Tooru’s smile disappears, “it will be the end of the world.” Neither of them will let that happen.

Arisa sits with Tooru and says she’s “trash” for maing her cry. Tooru says she’s not trash, and Arisa in turn says Tooru isn’t useless. What she is is a dummy, just as Kureno is a dummy, and Arisa can’t help but love dummies. But because she loves them, she doesn’t want to cause problems for them, so she gathers Tooru in a hug and assures her she needn’t worry; she’ll be fine. With that, the Nightgown Festival commences in earnest, and Megumi’s heart pounds as he’s surrounded by older women, the little scamp!

Rin continues slinking around the Souma compound, only to be caught by Ren, who asks her if she wants any “help.” No doubt Ren would love to lift the curse, though it’s interesting that she only comes into the picture now.

Fatigued by their emotional exertions, Tooru and Arisa fall asleep early. Megumi asks Saki if she thinks it’s really hopeless for Arisa and Kureno. Who can say? Arisa may have said “that’s it”, but Megumi isn’t so sure. Sometimes it takes a long time for lovers to find each other.

The next morning, Tooru comes home, all cheered up, and becomes even more cheered up when she finds her scarf waiting for her, courtesy of Kyou, who even washed it (though some stains remain, which is apropos!) Tooru bops him with a pom-pom once more, then Yuki and Shigure bid her good morning. As Tooru gets on with her life—no mean feat after what she’s learned—she resolves to gradually think upon the thinks Kureno told her bit by bit.

With this beautiful, magical, heartrending-and-mending opening outing, Fruits Basket continues to prove it is the final word in supernatural romantic comedy/dramas. After two exquisite seasons of painstakingly introducing characters, delivering their backstories and developing and strengthening relationships, this third, The Final, will introduce and execute the endgame.

Some of the darkest and most painful episodes may be yet to come, but I’ll happily endure them with Tooru, Arisa, Saki, Yuki, Kyou, and everyone else to see how things turn out!

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – 02 – The Scent of Kindness

After an emotional grind of a first episode, it was nice to start the second with some lighter comedy, starting with Tenjirou absolutely insisting on paying someone for materials he then expertly weaves into a basket for carrying Nezuko during the day. He may no longer have parents to answer to, but he was raised right.

There’s a lot of physical comedy inherent in Nezuko hiding in the darkest places she can find, even if she has to dig, as well as her neat trick of shrinking just enough to fit in the basket. Kitou Akari, well-known to me as a seiyu with a very precise and matter-of-fact meter, does a lot with little nonverbal sounds.

Her placid stare and bamboo gag conceal the smoldering demon within. While on the way to Mt. Sagiri they encounter a demon eating three humans, and Nezuko’s mouth waters profusely at the sight and smell of her new preferred food. Nevertheless, she doesn’t join, and has her brother’s back when the demon attacks him.

When characters are relatively still or moving slowly, we get beautiful backgrounds and vistas. When there’s action, the camera mixes frenetic 3D POV views with wide static or panning shots, to allow the motion to breathe. Every moment is a visually stunning spectacle, with a gorgeous cinematic score backing it up.

Tenjirou and Nezuko’s battle with the demon also blends action and comedy seamlessly, as Tenjirou deals with the peculiar circumstances of going toe-to-toe with a demon for the first time. What would’ve been a fatal hatchet to the throat is quickly-healed scratch, and even when the demon’s head and body are separated, the body still fights while the head grows arms and suddenly it’s as if there are two opponents.

Tenjirou is eventually able to disable the head, then tackles the body off a cliff before being caught by Nezuko. That’s when Urokodaki Sakonji arrives, to see if Tenjirou has what it truly takes to be a demon hunter. Unfortunately, taking forever to make decisions and showing empathy and kindness for your lethal foe are traits Tenjirou possesses in abundance, and are not ideal traits for a demon hunter.

That said, Tenjirou is clearly a tough kid with a head like a rock and keen sense of smell, and Giyuu respectfully asked Sakonji to train him as there’s just “something about” him and his sister, so Sakonji sets to work training him. The test begins with a grueling trek to Mt. Sagiri, with Tenjirou running while carrying his sis. Then he’s made to climb the mountain, and, as night falls, climb back down while avoiding a ridiculous number of punishing traps.

At first, Tenjirou is overwhelmed by exhaustion, the thin air, and his lack of early progress. But he hunkers down, slows and controls his breathing, and uses his nose to detect the traps and avoid…most of them. Just before dawn he arrives at Sakonji’s front door, the mountain having thoroughly chewed him up and spit him out.

It’s enough for Sakonji to accept him as his student. But the true challenge will be whether Tenjirou can learn to switch off his kind heart when it becomes a threat to his safety or an obstacle to his duty.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle – 10 – Demons in Humanland

Princess Sya has her most far-flung adventure yet, though it begins with a false start as she attempts to travel to the Human Realm on her own to purchase a state-of-the-art massage pillow. She puts her hear up and dons a gym uniform to enter ALL OUT MODE, then demonstrates her speed and agility as she outruns the Demons and eludes their attempts to stop her. Twilight, Siberian and Cleric are transfixed by her surprising athleticism, noting she’s like a football player out there.

When she starts getting perilously close to the poison swamp on the extreme edge of Demon Castle grounds, Twilight sets a trap with a bed in a cage. Nobody thinks it has a chance of working…until it works perfectly! They return Sya (cage and all) to the castle, where she tells them she won’t try to go alone if they accompany her, remarking that she knows they’re kind deep down.

The flattery works, and the next day Twilight, Siberian and Cleric accompany Syalis to the Human city of Endopolis. Sya is resplendent in her tidy traveler’s garb, but the demons’ disguises are so abysmal she resorts to pinning large notes on their backs reading “Practicing for Halloween.” Once in town, she spots a new Deluxe version of the pillow she covets on sale. All they have to do is wait in line…for three hours. Sya falls asleep on Siberian’s shoulders, but eventually the pillow is purchased.

By then it’s nighttime, and the anti-demon festival fireworks begin. When getting in the wrong line earlier, Twilight secured a VIP lottery ticket, and ends up winning a primo private viewing spot complete with snacks and cocktails (I’m really not sure about banana milk tea flavored popcorn though!) Just when the Demons start to think Sya is simply stalling because she doesn’t want to leave her own realm, she draws them a “grinning demon” symbol and suggests they head home—home, of course being the Demon Castle.

Once there, what becomes of the expensive massage pillow they went all that way and went through all that guff to get her? She pawns it off on the Teddy Demons. Hey, at least someone will enjoy it! Every episode of Sleepy Princess is an absolute hoot, but this was even more fun and hilarious than usual, all while deepening the bond of friendship between a human hostage and her gold-hearted captors—which is starting to bode well for future peace between their realms.

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle – 09 – My Uninhibited Hostage Life!

When Syalis smashes the equivalent of a phone when the “Human Shopping Channel” won’t ship a waterbed to the Demon Castle, she starts a quest to build her own. At the same time, Twilight and the Big Ten have a quest of their own: Ignore the princess so she’ll start feeling and acting like a hostage.

Naturally, this backfires. Not only does Syalis successfully collect all of the materials and tools she needs, but those items are sourced directly from the Big Ten. While they are all silent towards her, when she ties leashes to them and drags them around, they dare not resist lest they accidentally harm her.

This results in the unprecedented scene of her pulling the King, Cleric, and Siberian like she’s walking her pets. When Alraune tries to restore order, Syalis yawns and they misinterpret her tears to mean their ignoring her has harmed her emotionally, so they give up and help her build her waterbed.

The next Big Ten Demon Quest comes from a suggestion from Hades to put the princess to work. Syalis herself takes on the quest to complete all the work she is given in a single day, as she was raised to understand that she can’t sleep until her work is done!

Oddly enough, her work takes the form of summer vacation homework, with math problems, a diary in which she writes entries for every minute (instead of day), and arts and crafts. She performs all of this work in her “work clothes”, a fetching shoulderless black dress.

Once she’s done an entire month’s work in a day, the Top Ten concludes that continuing to give her that amount of work is unrealistic, and could in fact cause more harm than good. Meanwhile, Syalis plops on her bed without changing and falls asleep using her usual pink robes as a blanket, her quest complete.

0-for-2 so far, the Demons make it a trifecta with a third quest: Teach the princess how to be a proper hostage by showing her other hostages in the form of recently-captured human bandits. Syalis takes one look at the conditions of these prisoners and assumes the demons are planning to eat them.

When she’s told to react to the demons as the other hostages do—with intense fear and loathing—she does just that, with Minase Inori completely changing the usual way Syalis speaks to sound more like the classic damsel-in-distress. The demons hate this, and all of the verbal barbs she tosses their way hit their marks and leave them a defeated pile in the dungeon.

The other humans, having witnessed what the princess did to the demons, are now more afraid of her than the demons. Syalis takes the demons’ reactions to mean she should go back to acting the way she has all along, with no regard whatsoever to her hostage status. That said, she still puts on the hostage act…but only when it’s convenient to her.

Finally, while lying in bed before falling asleep, she wonders to a teddy demon that if everyone in the castle has been so kind to her thus far, why can’t humans and demons get along? Could her stay there be the impetus for her taking steps towards a peace treaty once released? Will her first order to the Hero be to stand down?

Rating: 4/5 Stars