Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 09 – Another Goal

Ao has successfully gotten rid of Kijima. At school, he avoids her, and warns others not to interrupt “Miss Horie’s” studying. At home, she has only a super-creepy companionship doll and her dad to comfort her.

Oh, and Yabe, who is determined to assist her studying, but finds she’s far too distracted to make any progress. So he does what any tutor would do: punishes her by making her dress as a catgirl maid. AS YOU DO!

When Kijima comes calling and encounters Yabe, he’s surprised how accepting he is about letting him have one last try. But it makes perfect sense to Yabe; if Ao feels better, she’ll study better. So Kijima sneaks into Ao’s room and hears her talk to herself about having nothing but him on her mind.

A little mild friskiness ensues—Ao is a little miffed he goes for her stomach first and doesn’t touch anything else, but melts when he kisses her head—and the two have a bit of a breakthrough in their relationship, now that the cards are on the table.

Furthermore, Kijima is prepared to help Ao study, and is find holding off on dating (and other activities) until she gets into a good school and moves out of the nest. Ao’s a little disappointed Kijima is being so accommodating, but considers dating him another goal to strive for through study. In other words, welcome motivation.

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Sarazanmai – 03 – The Golden Duo

Kazuki wakes up, but is too out of it to notice that Enta was just kissing him. Enta is direct with the audience: he’s in love with Kazuki. He has been for a long time, ever since they were the unstoppable “Golden Duo” in soccer, complete with a signature pose. Enta has to contend with a lot of kissing the next day, as his big sister Otone is going on a fishing trip with her boyfriend.

The episode plays with the fact that kisu is not just how you say “kiss,” but the Japanese name for Sillago japonica, or Japanese whiting. The city idol declares it’s kisu day, and in lieu of someone to kiss (that he knows of), Kazuki tries in vain to go to a fishmonger for a “kisu selfie” for Haruka.

While playing cards with Haruka (who “Sara” texts to apologize for the selfie being late), Enta learns that Kazuki isn’t laughing around his little brother either ever since quitting soccer. Enta wants to use the wish from the next dish of hope to reunite the Golden Duo.

Enta even fantasizes about Kazuki coming around on his own and letting him tie the miçanga to his ankle – the symbol of their soccer brotherhood as well as a token of affection. But no—it’s just Otone, who runs off with the anklet for her date.

As Enta defends the spot by the river where he and Kazuki used to practice by getting into a fight with two other players, the two “Otter” cops create another Kappa Zombie, this one from Otone’s kisu-loving boyfriend. His head takes the form of a kisu, but he’s a Don Juan who has many women and many kisses, obsessed with quantity over quality.

Enta fantasizes again that Kazuki comes to rescue him, but it’s just Kuji, who doesn’t get why Enta got in a fight he had no chance of winning. Enta is committed to protecting the Golden Duo’s practice spot…in the off-chance Kazuki comes back to him.

The Kappa Zombie alert is then sounded (with Sara doing a wonderful homage to Castle in the Sky), and rather than cats last week the sky is full of brides, all of them drawn to the zombie, who turns them to kisu with a kiss. The three lads are transformed by Keppi, do their attack song and dance, and extract the zombie’s shirikodama.

All three parts of the ensuing sarazanmai are related to Enta’s long-standing secret crush on Kazuki. We see Enta smelling Kazuki’s clothes, playing his recorder (for an indirect kiss), and finally his more recent kiss with a sleeping Sara!Kazuki.

The zombie thus vanquished and its desire assimilated, Otone and all the other women wake up and completely forget Mr. Kisu…as if he had never existed. He even disappears from photos, Back to the Future-style! Enta confesses his love to Kazuki and just when they seem poised to kiss, it’s only another fantasy; “Kazuki” is just Keppi.

Thanks to Kazuki’s obliviousness and Kuji’s lack of really caring, Enta’s secret seems to be secure—or at least emotionally tabled—for now. The next time he’s with Haruka (who we see in a wheelchair for the first time), Enta declares he’s going to “give up” on trying to win Kazuki over.

Part of that is that he saw a random mouse making off with the miçanga meant for Kazuki as a sign that it’s not to be. But then Haruka produces Kazuki’s original miçanga, saved from the trash, and asks Enta to keep trying to get Kazuki back into soccer.

Meanwhile, the Otter Cops are scolded by their boss, who is “otterly” furious at their lack of progress due to kappa-related interference (I hope he’s just a giant talking otter, for the record). With his frustration in mind, I wonder how much longer the kappa zombie fights will remain as easy as they’ve been.

Sarazanmai – 02 – Let Slip the Cats of War

As a reward for defeating their first kappa zombie, Keppi bestows upon the boys a silver “Dish of Hope” they can use to wish for anything. Enta snatches it and accidentally wishes for a hatchback-sized cucumber roll, shattering the dish and leaving the three with no reward (unless they’re going to eat that roll…which is on the ground).

Kazuki is eager to earn another dish that he can use not to fulfill his own wish, but that of his little brother Haruka. We learn that he is the “Harukappa” to whom Kazuki is sending selfies of himself-as-Azuma Sara. Kazuki’s only wish is that Haruka is happy, and a dish can only help that cause.

Meanwhile, Kuji Toi is up to more criminal mischief on behalf of his older brother, while Enta receives a Kappazon package meant for Toi—containing a handgun of all things—strengthening Enta’s belief he’s Bad News

When Nyantaro, the fat, awesome neighborhood cat Haruka adores, sneaks into Toi’s weed-growing lab and steels a shipment hidden in cat treats, another ludicrous chase ensues. Kazuki (dressed as Sara again) stops Toi when he threatens Nyantaro with his metal ruler, and refuses to get out of his way or stop following him.

The chase leads them to a couples-only theme park, an employee of which dresses the two up in bee costumes and insists they hold hands the entire time they’re in the park. Kazuki and Toi hold hands and chase Nyantaro on ride after ride, but can’t manage to close the distance, since we’re talking about a neighborhood cat here: if he doesn’t want to be caught, it’s not happening.

We learn a little more about the two bishounen cops from the end of last week, who appear to do an elaborate song and dance of their own to extract desire and create a new cat-based kappa zombie boss.

It’s apparent these two and Keppi’s three young helpers are working at cross purposes, but the cops’ specific motivations, beyond their commitment to “wring out the desire”, remain mysterious.

Not soon after their “performance”, thousands of cats start to float up into the sky, including Nyantaro, and Enta and Keppi (disguised as his date) meet up with Kazuki and Toi to discuss the situation. Enta warns Kazuki to stay away from the kid he’s currently holding hands with, but in order to get his little brother’s favorite cat back, he needs Toi’s help.

Events from there follow a pattern now familiar after the first go-around last week (in what I like to call the Ikuhara Formula): Keppi turns the three lads into kappa, they attack the zombie boss (this time a giant cat), and when they determine its secret (he kidnapped cats and shaved them to give himself a coat of fur so his girlfriend would take him back! Of COURSE!!), they  break through and extract its shirikodama.

Once that’s done, the guys go through the titular sarazanmai, during which it’s revealed that Nyantaro was owned by another family before Kazuki stole it so Haruka could have a cat (even if it was only a neighborhood cat). He defends what he did because he did it for his brother’s sake; his happiness trumping all other considerations.

With the second boss defeated, the lads receive another silver dish of hope, and Kazuki and Toi immediately argue over it, with Toi even brandishing his gun. Since both have brothers they want to make happy, and Keppi informs them they’ll need five to grant a real wish, Toi cedes the dish to Kazuki, but he’s getting the next one.

That night, Kazuki finally completes his mission to take a Sara selfie with a cat (specifically the rescued Nyantaro), to Haruka’s delight. Exhausted from the day of activity, he passes out right there in the park, where he’s approached by none other than Enta…who promptly kisses him! Looks like he’s got a secret too—one that re-contextualizes why he was so concerned with Kazuki hanging around Toi.

The two cops also now realize somebody is out there working against them. It’s likely only a matter of time before the two opposing groups clash. In the meantime, on with the hope-dish collecting!

After two episodes, I now have a better grasp of the beats and rhythms of a show that definitely dances to the beat of its own drum. With less head-scratching to do I could concentrate better on all the little details that contribute to making Sarazanmai such a fun and exciting little show that’s unafraid to challenge contemporary “norms”of gender and sexuality.

Domestic na Kanojo – 09 – Cavalcade of Unpleasantness

Time to go on the record: I am not a fan of the Natsuo x Hina route. It made sense for Natsuo to be infatuated with his beautiful and kind teacher, and for those feelings to remain even after their parents married. But as for Hina returning those feelings? I’m just not buying it, and Natsuo isn’t doing himself any favors with his incessant brooding, whining, and stalker-ish behavior that blows past any and all decent boundaries.

He’s also apparently decided to utterly ignore and move past the fact Rui was coming to his room to make out, without considering why she may have been doing that. Rui is thankfully less concerned with Natsuo than with her big sister leaving the house right now, blaming her and Natsuo’s shenanigans for being the primary factor in her move.

A serendipitous encounter with Hina’s ex who we learn is underclassman of Kiriya-sensei (which…who cares?) properly apologizes to Rui (with a $45 parfait), and doubts Hina is moving because of Rui, but because she genuinely wants to strike out on her own. That night, Hina is surprised to find Rui in such distress, but her lap is there for Rui’s head, and she assures her she’ll visit home when she can. It’s a nice sisterly moment, but obviously fails to address the Natsuo-shaped rift between them.

It was disconcerting enough when Hina said her move would make “meeting” with Natsuo more convenient, but when she gives him a key to her new place, she’s truly playing with fire. As she’s been fond of saying, Natsuo is still a kid, which basically means he lacks experience, emotional maturity, and above all, self-control. Give a kid an inch, and they’ll take a mile.

Predictably, as soon as he is able (and after coldly rebuking Rui) he rushes his horny ass to the apartment she’s still moving into, lets himself in, then sits by her bed until she wakes up (she’s exhausted from unpacking). They make out a bit, but thank goodness Hina pumps the brakes, because Natsuo “isn’t sure he’d be able to stop himself” from going all the way. Ugh.

You can tell Hina is being torn apart by the opposing forces in her heart—she knows she should be a good adult, teacher, and older sister (and thinks she’s failing at all of those). For whatever reason, she loves Natsuo more than that, and wants him in a way normally impossible—and certainly problematic—for those other three roles. So she delays, telling Natsuo there’s no need to rush; they have all the time in the world to do…whatever it is they’re doing.

I must also go on record in voicing my extreme displeasure at the sudden and baffling introduction of Alex, perhaps the most annoying and cliched character of any of the shows I’m watching this Winter. Did the show forget about Natsuo’s actual best friend in whom both he and Rui confided and relied upon? Why are they wasting so much time with this…creature? Whatever they have planned for him can’t be good…unless they plan to shoot him out of a cannon!

That brings us to Natsuo’s worst moment of the episode, which is saying something: confronting Hina at school about how he felt she was being too distant towards him, at school. She takes his hand and leads him somewhere presumably more private, but it’s still a window-filled hallway, and the vice principal is not far away. She once again appeases him, and kisses him, I say again, AT SCHOOL.

Some words to the wise, Natsuo: Hina isn’t your property, and if you get her fired, she won’t be able to afford your lovenest. Shape the ef up my dude! And Hina: stop enabling the bastard!

Domestic na Kanojo – 08 – Keep It Together

Natsuo is bowled over by the Japanese American transfer student Alex, who is biking indoors, and the two end up apprehending an underwear thief who stole from Rui, among others. At the police station, Al sees Rui and immediately asks Natsuo (who calls her “a friend”) if he’ll set him up with her.

This, when Natsuo is still trying to figure out how he feels about Rui, who is affectionate when they make out but otherwise her usual stoic, hard-to-read self. While making dinner, Natsuo comes right out and asks Rui if she’d want to hang out with him and Alex. she sees right through his feeble ploy, and storms off, positively furious.

He visits her room later with a peace offering of yaki-udon and an apology, but Rui wants him to apologize by kissing her. The two are closing in on second base when Hina enters the unlocked, slightly open door and sees the two embracing.

After a long, agonizing pause, Hina flees to her room, and when Natsuo tries to explain, she tells him she’s not in the state of mind in that moment to believe anything he says. Instead, she declares that she needs to stop living there.

Rui visits Hina and explains that she initiated things, because she’s pretty sure she likes Natsuo. When Hina brings up the fact they’re family, Rui doesn’t see a huge issue, since there’s no blood relation. Nevertheless, Hina thinks their mother would be sad.

Al gives Natsuo the advice that nothing will ever be solved if nobody talks to each other plainly and honestly about how they feel, but the next day Hina announces she’s going to move out and live on her own. Her mom and stepdad buy her explanation, but Rui and Natsuo suspect they’re to blame (obviously).

The entire family goes to a night festival while Hina is still around, and Rui wonders if she and Natsuo should cool it with the kissing for the time being. Meanwhile, Natsuo can’t stop looking at Hina’s nape. When Hina loses her cell phone, Natsuo takes her by the hand and leads her to a private place where they can talk.

But Hina remains evasive, other than to say it’s necessary for her to move out for both their sakes. Natsuo’s attempts to force an honest conversation backfire badly, when he refuses to let go of a Hina who’s clearly had enough, and she bites his hand. The manager listens to Natsuo and holds Hina in place, noting how ugly she looks when she’s angry (his response when she says she’s always ugly is both brutal and hilarious).

The manager, one of the waiters, and her young son all join Natsuo and Hina in another secluded spot so the latter can cool down, but she’s tired of being the adult, and starts acting like a child. The son offers her a lollipop to cheer her up, and it largely works.

The manager, waitress and son depart, and Natsuo listens as Hina explains how it was just as much jealousy as shock when she say him with Rui. Rui has always been a free spirit, so Hina always felt she had to be the “normal” one who “kept it together”, not simply shooting from the hip like her little sister. She sacrificed her grasp on her identity, in part, to protect Rui’s.

Even though Hina rejected him, she did so because she felt she had no choice; as the adult in the room, she couldn’t give in to her feelings, no matter how real or strong they were. Hearing that his love isn’t unrequited after all is a revelation to Natsuo, who embraces her and asks nothing more than to be able to hold her like that and say that they love each other for that brief period of time.

As the family heads home together, while Rui isn’t turned around and looking, Natsuo and Hina hold hands. So it would seem that Natsuo is choosing a sister, based on his longstanding feelings for Hina. But just because he now knows those feelings aren’t one-sided doesn’t change the fact that Rui has fallen for him, and he’s going to have to address that every bit as earnestly as he and Hina addressed where they’re at. Because one thing is certain: Rui ain’t dating Alex!

Domestic na Kanojo – 07 – Advance and Retreat

We begin with Natsuo and Hina going on a “date” to Kamakura. The teahouse lady mistakes them for a couple. They see the sights and have a lot of fun; their chemistry is unassailable. Then they head for the beach, and Natsuo brings up Hina’s “child” comment from earlier.

Hina admits she was just trying to say the thing that would hurt Natsuo most, since she was already in a relationship with Shuu and she and Natsuo were now siblings. Then she tells him how she met Shuu: like Natsuo with Hina, he was her teacher and first love.

When her friends shunned her for being too cute and flirty, he was her only friend. When they met up by chance years later, he was wearing a ring, but she couldn’t turn him or her happiness down when he said they should get together.

When Natsuo hands her his newly-completed novel, whose heroine is modeled after her, he confesses he’s been in love with her for a long time. Hina’s reaction follows the general pattern of their incident in her bedroom: she draws closer, taking his hand, and proposing they go out together, keeping it a secret from their family and everyone else.

But then, as when she basically teased Natsuo’s lack of experience, Hina brings the hammer down, taking Natsuo a bit too far into the surf to make a point: for them to be together when they’re family will most certainly backfire stupendously. She likens it to double suicide, be it socially or literally.

Natsuo knows it’s not possible, but merely asks they stay in the surf a bit longer so he can hug her and cry it out. That night after they get back home, Hina reads the whole book in one night, and it brings her to tears. Through the pages she can probably feel Natsuo’s longing, because it’s exactly how she felt with Shuu. She can hardly blame him for something when she knows full well we aren’t in control of who we fall for.

Things seem to return to a friendly sibling relationship between Natsuo and Hina, but Rui’s crush on Natsuo continues, culminating in her visiting Natsuo’s room one night. She notes that on the day they met (and did it), they never actually kissed. She wants to try doing so now.

Despite things being cordial with Hina, Natsuo is still a wreck, and it’s at least partially his desire to prove Hina wrong about something like them being utterly impossible that leads him to acquiesce to Rui’s request. To hear Rui so earnestly describe how calm and at rest she felt while kissing him, well…it certainly complicates matters for young Natsuo.

At this point Miu seems to be the best bet for him in terms of romantic interests who aren’t related to him, while Momo would obviously welcome his company anytime. Still, with Rui stating her intentions to keep continue their kissing sessions on the downlow, it’s clear that it’s not going to be as easy as going out with Miu or Momo.

After spending the evening with Natsuo and Rui tutoring them for their upcoming exams, Rui brings up Ashihara and his apparent rapport with her, intriguing Hina. Later that night, while perhaps going to visit Rui’s room, Natsuo sees that Hina’s door is open.

Before he can knock, he hears a…a noise, and when he peeks through the crack in the door, he sees Hina pleasuring herself, letting out Shuu’s name when she finishes. I’m not sure why she didn’t completely close the door, but never mind; the deeply private moment Natuso witnessed can’t be unseen or unheard.

As disturbing as it was to see Natsuo linger by the door as long as he did, he saw in Hina what she sensed in him: an unbearable longing for the one they love. She may have broken things off with Shuu but she’s most definitely not over him. No doubt that will evoke some guilt in Natsuo, who, along with Rui, gave Hina such a harsh “him or us” ultimatum.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 17 – Breaking Out of Her Shell

Ayado and Itou’s tearful reunion is prefaced by a brief foray into Ayado’s past, when her first love was a manga character (and not even a main character!) and she became invisible to 3D guys, with tastes that didn’t jive with the other girls. With kind, no-nonsense civil servant parents who left her to her own devices, before she knew it Ayado found herself locked in a shell.

Her new friends helped her break through and emerge from that shell, but her crush on Hikari and his subsequent rejection of her was a roller coaster of pain and embarrassment made her afraid to ever stray towards “that territory” again. That is, until her fear of Itou leaving her was greater than her fear of said territory.

When Ayado tearfully asks to be part of Itou’s life again, Itou tears up too, requiring them to share the handkerchief she borrowed from him. Ayado then reports what’s happened to Hikari and Iroha, and the next day Hikari is ready with a congratulatory cake. Longtime “Ayatou”shippers, Hikari among them, can now let out a sigh of relief and shed a tear or two of joy.

Meanwhile, Iroha finally gets to visit Hikari’s house again, and just when she starts to kiss him, his mom barges in to announce udon is for dinner. Hikari is astounded how quickly and naturally Iroha slips into his family’s rhythm, as if she was always meant to be there; his dad thanks her for all her help, while even Kaoru asks if he can call her big sister.

It’s certainly nice for Hikari to be done with soap opera stuff for the time being, but while Itou and Ayado quickly agree to go to a movie for their first date, Ayado experiences what’s best described as “joy overload.” Simply being near Itou, having his attention, and feeling the warmth of his hand has her fantasizing about doing much more serious things with him.

Because this is Ayado and Itou we’re talking about, her self-consciousness leads to her acting strangely, which Itou misinterprets as her having second thoughts about dating. But unlike past Ayado and Itou miscommunications, Ayado clenches her fists and sets the record straight before the day (and episode) is out.

Realizing she hasn’t actually verbalized how she feels, she starts by telling Itou he’s got it all wrong; far from not wanting to date him, she’s ecstatic beyond belief at the very idea, because she loves him. Then she does what she wanted to do all day and kisses him, and he kisses her back.

From there, no longer confined by any shell, Ayado asks if Itou would mind if she “hit him with the full force of her desires,” to which he wisely suggests they take things slowly. They may be a couple, but they still have a lot of learning about each other—not to mention themselves—to do. It’s a process we’ve already seen unfold with Hikari and Iroha with mostly good results. And so now Ishino and Takanashi are the only remaining singles in the group of friends.

Domestic na Kanojo – 03 – The Scary Realm of Adults

Natsuo visits his best friend at the cafe where he works, and describes the incident with Hina and her boyfriend last night. His friend diagnoses Natsuo as jealous, and he can relate. He observes women stuck in non-ideal or flat-out bad relationships at the cafe all the time, and jokingly(?) wishes they’d just break up and date him. Like the young “office lady” who is in an affair with a married man. His friend later spots that woman outside, and to Natsuo’s shock, it’s Hina.

Not only is Hina doing something morally questionable by sleeping with someone else’s husband, but she’s doing something contrary to Natsuo’s perfect ideal of her up to that point. Like catching her crying on the rooftop and then watching her drink herself to sleep, it’s another crack in that facade.

When he confronts her at home, she kindly tells him to stay out of her business, as she dwells within the world of adults where kids like him shouldn’t set foot, and that’s basically that. Then Natsuo kisses her, she shoves him back, slaps him, then kisses him back.

Before Natsuo knows it, he’s being pushed onto the bed by Hina, but she stops when she sees his eyes, which she immediately detects as those of a child. He may have thought his stolen kiss was bold and cool, but she can sense his fear now that she’s responded to it.

With that, she gets off of him and shows him the door. It may have been harsh, but Hina is right that her business is her own, and she gave him fair warning not to stray into it. Also, Natsuo initiated with the kiss. That being said, she doesn’t feel good about having but Natsuo in his place. Indeed, she feels like shit/

The next day Natsuo’s father finds a note from him saying he’s gone to his friend’s house for a couple days. Pops and his wife quickly assume it’s a move protesting the marriage, but Rui knows better why Natsuo left, and Hina’s not great at hiding from Rui that she knows as well.

Natsuo moulders away in his friend’s room, not even moving for the entirety of a cafe shift. But as luck would have it, Natsuo is looking out the window when Rui walks past, clearly looking for someone. They meet eyes and he meets her downstairs, and his friend’s mom invites them in.

Rui isn’t copying Natsuo, she’s simply “boycotting” Hina’s affair, much like Natsuo, if for different reasons. One reason they share is that they both had a higher idea of who Hina is, and she’s letting them down with her adultery, and if she wants her little sister and stepbrother in her life, she’ll have to make a difficult choice.

After a strategy session with Natsuo’s friend , he and Rui return to a dark house where their folks are considering signing divorce papers. Such is the result of Natsuo and Rui not telling their folks what’s actually troubling them; they make the most obvious assumption based on the little they’ve been given.

Natsuo and Rui reassure their folks they don’t oppose the marriage, but don’t tell them why they ran away from home. They’re back now, and willing to endure one more awkward day with Hina until they set their plan into motion. We’ll see if the show leans more toward their side, even as it’s offered little hints that explain, if not entirely justify, Hina’s behavior.

She likes this guy, wants to be with him, and wants to make it legit by having him divorce. She feels things neither Rui nor Natsuo have ever felt, and thus dismisses their concerns out of hand in addition to looking down on them as simple kids. I wonder if some compromise or middle ground can be found.

Musings:

  • Natsuo’s pal puts the pieces together pretty fast that Hina’s affair is what triggered Rui into sleeping with Natsuo. Rui doesn’t really mind Natsuo telling his friend, as he doesn’t attend their school.
  • I like how we get a little snapshot of Natsuo’s friend’s family life. Everyone wears glasses there, his mom is really nice, and his sister is eager to see him with a girlfriend.
  • That said, Natsuo’s friend’s boss at the cafe was…uh…something.
  • Speaking of parents, Natsuo’s pops and Rui’s mom really are kind and generous people who’d put their happiness aside for their kids’ sake.
  • Who else thought Hina was going to take it further after ripping Natsuo’s shirt open? Yikesy…

Domestic na Kanojo – 02 – Not So Strange After All

When Rui interrupts Natsuo’s kiss, she silently judges him as she roughly drags her sister to her bedroom. In retrospect, kissing an unconscious Hina definitely wasn’t his finest moment, even if it was a kiss meant to put a lid on his crush on her now that they’re step-siblings.

The next day at school, a late, bed-headed Natsuo learns that Rui has transferred to his school, and she’s immediately the talk of the school due to her being cute. Natsuo isn’t clear enough with his words, and gets Rui to think he wants them to act like strangers.

But the mere fact they went off into the courtyard together to have a private chat is suspicious enough to Natsuo’s classmates, who are well aware both he and Rui snuck out of the mixer together. When he meets with Hina, she asks if she kissed him while she was drunk last night, and apologizes in advance if she’s too “relaxed” at home again.

Rui was surrounded by girls in the morning, but by afternoon she’s all alone; Natsuo knows something’s up and has a pretty good idea: Rui is socially awkward, standoffish and fairly tactless. It’s as difficult for her to make and keep friends as it is easy for her big sister.

Natsuo offers to help her by pretending to be a (girl) classmate, and Rui is still her usual self-defeatingly honest self, but the two end up engaged in a dialogue that soon captures the attention of the entire class, who think some kind of skit is going on. Suddenly, Rui doesn’t seem so hard to approach, now that they know who they’re dealing with.

That night, a nude Natsuo predictably walks in on Rui in the bath, but thank goodness for once it doesn’t result in a blood-curdling scream and/or punch. As Rui quite logically points out, there’s nothing he or she haven’t seen before (interesting considering she once said to “forget” their tryst ever happened).

Rather than send him out, Rui calmly invites him in, and it’s Natsuo who hesitates. First of all, she wants to thank him for giving her a helping hand in breaking the ice with her class. But she’s also curious about why he tried to kiss Hina.

At first she dismissed him as an indiscriminate womanizer, but spending the day at school changed her mind about that. So instead, she wonders if he was merely trying to cheer her up in light of her recent boyfriend troubles.

Obviously, Natsuo doesn’t know about Hina’s boyfriend troubles. After the three step-siblings have dinner alone together when their newlywed folks go out for dinner (with Rui emerging as the best cook of the sisters by far), Natsuo brings up the subject, and Hina just as quickly deflects.

In a spot of bad timing, her boyfriend Shuu calls and she goes out to the front of the house to talk to him, insisting Natsuo not go outside with her. Nearly a half-hour later she rushes in, shaking and clearly upset, but still refuses to admit to Natsuo that she’s hurting.

Then there’s a knock at the door and the doorbell rings repeatedly, and both Hina and Natsuo assume its Shuu. Rui ends up the one to get the door, and it’s just their folks, a little tipsy from celebrating their marriage becoming official.

In his first days as stepbrother to both Rui and Hina, Natsuo is already trying to help them with their troubles. Rui will probably be fine with making friends in class, but Hina’s problems will be tougher to tackle, especially since she’s so reluctant to be helped (and she’s well within her rights, as an adult, to not want to seek help from a kid).

Regardless of whether he can help Hina, the fact is Natsuo’s new family and living situation is not nearly as crazy as the initial premise indicated. Whatever he may have done with Rui in the past, and however he feels about Hina, a new and powerful element has been introduced to his relationships with both: he’s unconditionally there for them, and doubtless they’re there for him.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 06 – Quantum Entanglement-by-Butt-Kickin’

On the eve of finals, Mai decides she’s used enough of the stick and whips out a carrot in the form of her bunny girl suit, which she wears while tutoring Sakuta. Why the change of pace? She witnessed him stand up for Tomoe at the station, and thinks better of him for working so hard even for a fake girlfriend. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is that Mai isn’t the slightest bit threatened by Tomoe.

The finals come and go, as does the last day of school and the start of summer break: July 18. Sakuta and Tomoe have been dating three weeks now, but Tomoe assures him she has an ironclad plan for the breakup. After a fun final date at the beach, she shakes his hand and thanks him for his help. She’ll simply tell her friends she dumped him when she realized he only had feelings for Mai—something that happens to be true.

But I knew, after that “final” date, there was no way July 19 would come. Instead, July 18 resets, as I predicted. What I didn’t expect was that Tomoe isn’t aware of the reset…or at least says she isn’t. They go on their beach date a second, then a third time.

Sakuta starts to suspect Tomoe may be lying about not knowing about the looping. It’s confirmed when she turns around and smiles at him during the principal’s address; something she hadn’t done in previous iterations. Not only does Sakuta know for sure that she’s lying, but he knows why.

On the fourth July 18 Sakuta throws Tomoe for a loop (for a change), taking her to Enoshima, the place they were originally going to go on their first date, but he’s making it their last. They climb the prodigious stairs to the shrine, and he fills out a votive tablet for good relationships. Tomoe thinks it sinful, since their relationship isn’t real, but he tells her that when they both agreed to do this, they agreed to to it all the way, even to hell.

Moreover, it isn’t sinful for Tomoe, since she’s actually in love with Sakuta. She plays dumb, but once they’re alone on the observation deck, he finally gets her to admit that she’s aware of what she’s doing, and why. Sakuta tells her flat out that whether she repeats time a hundred or a hundred million times, his feelings for Mai won’t change.

Tomoe counters that her feelings have changed. At first, she only meant for the fake relationship to help her save face. But every time she loops, her feelings for Sakuta only keep building up. A stirring monologue ensues, with Touyama Nao effortlessly bringing the feels. Finally, Tomoe does what needs to be done to move on: to stop lying to herself confess her love, clearly and loudly.

The next time Sakuta wakes up, it’s not July 18, or July 19; it’s June 27 (again). Tomoe sent them all the way back to the day she was asked out by the guy her friend likes. This time, she turns him down properly, resolved to face the social consequences…which don’t turn out to be that bad; her friends don’t end up ostracize her. Better still, she can still be good friends with Sakuta, which was always part of her plan.

As for Sakuta, he gets to redo asking Mai out, and she responds just as he’d hoped, as she steals a kiss to express how she feels about him. The next three weeks proceed as they did the last time, with the two differences being Sakuta knows what’s going to happen (even the exam questions) and he and Tomoe aren’t fake dating. They don’t have to.

It was, after all, nought but a simulation of the future, and yet still just as real as the future to come. In her traditional casual science-y explanation, Futaba surmises that Sakuta was drawn into the looping with Tomoe due to “quantum entanglement”, which happens when two particles collide. In this case, Tomoe and Sakuta kicking each other’s butts. Will this show’s delicious cleverness never cease? I for one hope not.

It certainly wastes no time getting the next arc started, as the episode closes with Sakuta meeting a middle school girl who just happens to share the name of his first crush: Makinohara Shouko.

Happy Sugar Life – 09 – Eliminating All Risks

In exchange for the change to see and be purified by Shio, Taiyo follows through with Satou’s instructions, giving Asahi Shio’s sock and telling a tale about it being found at a station some distance away. A cordial exchange quickly devolves into nastiness when Asahi smells some kind of trickery afoot, and then triggers Taiyo into a rage by calling him a “dirty adult”; pretty much the worst insult you can throw his way.

Still, Asahi regrets how things ended, and decides to take Taiyos advice and travel afar for more clues. The night before he leaves he meets Shouko in the park once more. Shouko thinks everything about Asahi is amazing, and while he’s not manly or her type at all, a part of her is jealous of Shio for having such a gallant prince willing to move forward no matter how much it may hurt or how scared he is. She bids him farewell with an exchange of contact info, and a kiss.

Satou is at the station to make sure Asahi is on his way, then returns home to 1208 to spend the whole day with Shio. It just happens to be the “anniversary” of the day she first kidnapped her. Satou celebrates by buying a bunch of fancy sweets which the two share together, and when Shio brings up the future, and securing said future together with the bonds of marriage, Satou is ready with two rings.

Both she and Shio are happy beyond words; giddy, even. And in a moment of particularly intense giddiness, Shio pounces on Satou as she’s exiting the front door…

…Where Shouko is waiting there with her cameraphone, and snaps a picture of Shio with Satou. It’s a devastating needle scratch but also a welcome glass of cold ice water on Satou’s frankly impossible (and ridiculously amoral) fantasy dream world. Her Happy Sugar Life is a sham; a mere house of cards that falls all too easily once a sliver of reality peeks in.

And yet, as evil as Satou’s actions are, Shouko comes with at least a veneer of non-judgment, acceptance, and love of and for Satou, no matter what she’s become, what she’s done. No matter how far she’s sunk into the muck, Shouko wants to pull her out and back into the light—the real light. But Shouko is doomed the moment Satou saw her on the balcony; before she even snapped that picture.

In a thoroughly unpleasant, sickeningly brutal scene, Satou grabs Shouko from behind as she’s leaving, sticks a knife in her throat, and suffocates her with her hand as she bleeds out. Another risk eliminated. She used soft power on Asahi, but had to go hard with Shouko, who kept persisting and interfering.

But Shouko’s death wasn’t in vain. The photo of Shio with Satou reaches Asahi. Will he be prudent enough to report Shio’s kidnapping to trained authorities and let them deal with Satou, or will he try to go after her alone? How will Satou deal with Shouko’s body, and will her murder spark a purge of more “risks”?

Most importantly, how will Shio respond to this once the initial shock wears off? Perhaps Shio herself could end up dealing the decisive blow to Satou’s delusional,  impossible world of sugar and happiness. The foundations of that world are as rotten as her aunt’s apartment; they’re sinking ever deeper into the earth made soft by spilled blood.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 12 – A Place to Have Fun

Last week set up a final, hand-to-hand showdown between LLENN and Pitohui, and after a little friendly ribbing, LLENN manages to strike a nerve and get Pito to let her guard down. The thing is, even cutting her in the leg and throat doesn’t come close to bringing her down, and she has an iron fist waiting for LLENN’s face. She even eyes LLENN’s discarded P-chan, and has no qualms about using it to kill its master.

P-chan self-destructs rather than let that happen, but M is nearby with Fuka as his hostage. Pito’s rationale for killing M before Fuka or LLENN is that he betrayed her by bringing his love into what she wanted to be a true “death game.”

Fuka frees herself with the dagger in her hair, rushes Pito, but doesn’t attack her; instead, she cuts off LLENN’S hands and kicks her just right so she’s able to, essentially, tear out Pito’s throat. Pito admits defeat and agrees to honor the promise they made to meet IRL if LLENN killed her.

Unfortunately, the very distracted LLENN and Fuka are taken out by the last remaining team (T-S) who end up winning SJ2, but LLENN’s primary objective was never to win, but to save Pito, and in that she was successful.

After having tea and sweets with real-life SHINC, Karen and Miyu meet up with Goushi (of whose looks Miyu immediately approves), who has agreed to take them where real-life Pito is.

On the way, he describes how he was once a pathetic fatty who stalked Pito, and ended up being captured, restrained, beaten, and turned into her manservant, all of which he’s fine with, because “M” stands for masochist.

After watching Elsa Kanzaki play guitar and sing at her secret concert, Goushi takes Karen and Miyu backstage to meet the real-life Pito…the club owner. But Karen isn’t fooled; Elsa is the real Pito, because she knew things only someone who read her letter could know about her.

Elsa congratulates Karen for seeing through their admittedly half-assed little ruse, and gives her a big kiss that makes her very uncomfortable (though Karen herself gave her a big hug just before that).

When next we see the two, they are LLENN and Pitohui, only now they’re on the same side, enjoying GGO not as a Death Game, but a place to just have fun. And after her first and only encounter with Elsa IRL, Karen is somewhat reluctant to agree to any future ones.

So ends a usually entertaining, occasionally clever, but ultimately inessential edition to the SAO/GGO saga.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 13 (Fin) – On Second Thought…Screw Duty!

Tada-kun never fell in love…until he did. And just his luck, it’s someone who is not only from very far away, but whose hand is promised to another. Against as a monumental, implacable an obstacle as Teresa’s stated duty to her country, he feels lost, defeated; like nothing matters anymore—even feelings that got him on a plane.

As Alec basically lets Teresa cry it out one more night (and cries right beside her, owing to her own unrequited love) Kaoru emerges from the sidelines to encourage Tada not to give in to despair or give up on saying what he came there to say to Teresa. While messing around, Kaoru accidentally lets the royal invite Rachel slipped in Tada’s bag.

That’s all the stimulus Tada needs to spring into action, retrieving the damp envelope at all costs. He’s regained the will and the imperative to see and speak with Teresa one last time…even if he’s being a bother.

Turns out Tada is far more of a bother to Charles and Alec than Teresa, but while Alec is quick to call for Tada to leave, Charles, who puts Teresa’s happiness before his own, lets her and Tada have some more time together. Nothing he says or does can change the fact Teresa simply doesn’t love him.

It sucks, but it’s not at all unexpected when two people are arranged, basically at birth, to marry one another. Love can certainly develop in such a scenario, but in my personal view it’s definitely putting the cart before the horse, and such arrangements aren’t a match for organically developing love such as Teresa and Tada’s.

When Tada finally confesses he’s loved Teresa since they met, she accuses him of being unfair. She left Japan so she could lock away all of her feelings deep inside for all time, but all it took was him following her to her home and saying a few words to break that lock.  There’s no “last day of crying” for Teresa, as long as she’s not in a situation where she can live with the one she loves.

As the credits roll, we return to Japan, where aside from Pin-senpai graduating, is more-or-less the status quo…with one very important development: Charles broke off his engagement to Teresa, rightfully acknowledging that it wouldn’t be fair for either of them to follow through with something that was not their choice.

In a bit of a surprise, Teresa not only seems happy to be free of her engagement to Charles, but took it further by “running after” Tada back to Japan, either delaying or outright cancelling her succession to the throne.

Tada is shocked that she would all but abdicate for him, but once they’re in each others arms, the whys, wherefores, and consequences melt away, and it’s just the two of them, Teresa, and Tada, no longer having never fallen in love. Is it a bit too neat and tidy of an ending? You bet…but who cares!