Val x Love – 03 – Idolization

With her two triplet sisters leveled up, it’s the turn of sixth daughter Mutsumi, proving the greatest challenge due to her occupation as a wildly popular idol. Leveling up means going on a date with Takuma and not only getting through his layers of social anxiety, but avoiding being exposed, which could cause scandal and deep-six her career. That’s tricky when Takuma inadvertently attracts all the wrong attention; he’s essentially the anti-idol to her idol, the source of all their fear and hatred rather than hope and love.

Matters are made worse by the fact the watchdog from Hel Garm is shadowing them, but rather than attack the Valkyrie directly, sends the Gjallarhorn to disrupt her leveling up. In one of the weirder and more aggravating depictions of the legendary horn, this one takes the form of a small robot with a siren on its head constantly pointing out the presence of MUTSUMI to the public. Takuma just wants to get away, but recalling how Mutsumi just wants to help her family, he takes her hand to lead her away from the gawkers.

Despite having frequented the mall since he was little, Takuma leads them not to an exit, but a dead end, and he and Mutsumi must squeeze intimately into a storage locker as their pursuers close in. Due to their positions and height difference, Mutsumi can’t kiss him on the mouth to transform instantly; she must resort to kissing his chest, which takes three minutes. They just make it thanks to a last-minute assist from the eldest daughter Ichika, and Mutsumi flies them out of there with her signature wings.

While the constant references to MUTSUMI’s ample bust (and ample close-ups of same) weren’t the most necessary, they do paint the picture of the challenges she faces every day as a cute-yet-pure idol. And yet we learn through her inner thoughts throughout the date (delivered with gusto by the squeaky but talented Hidaka Rina) that she has the same desires as anyone else.

While she thought she’d given Takuma nothing but bad memories on their date, when they’re floating in the sky watching the sunset, Takuma actually smiles, fondly remembering sunsets he watched with his mom. Garm and that horrid horn aside, the foes he and Mutsumi had to beat this week weren’t demons, but rather his fear and her fame. On to the next sister!

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Val x Love – 02 – A Pat on the Head, a Peck on the Cheek

This week it’s the turn of Odin’s fifth daughter, the Student Council President Saotome Itsuya AKA Schwertleite. A raven-haired maiden beloved at school for her peerless looks and elegant ladylike aura, Itsuya has somewhat less ladylike plans for Takuma after witnessing what she deemed was a pretty chaste exchange between him and her sister Natsuki.

In her head, she’s not that interested in Takuma at all. He’s just a means to an end: if he can awaken her powers and she can save the world, she’ll get a pat on the head from Odin. It’s a simple, childish wish that she keeps entirely to herself, until a frosti shows up ahead of schedule and she suddenly has to level up with Takuma in a hurry.

The thing is, her full-speed-ahead approach doesn’t work on the nervous, petrified Takuma, and once she starts to undress and moves in on him, she suddenly loses her nerve as well, as she can no longer reconcile her mature outward manner with her inner innocence.

Seeing her freeze up in fear causes Takuma to remember what his mom did to calm him down—a good old head pat—so he gives one to Itsuya and it manages to do the trick. The extent of their hanky-panky is that head-pat and a kiss on the cheek just like Natsuki’s, but it’s enough.

With Natsuki just barely holding on against the monster (even getting all bondaged-up and getting her outfit torn), Itsuya swoops in with her chain of white crosses, enveloping the frosti so Natsuki can finish it off with a giant sword. Mission complete, and now two of Odin’s daughters have leveled up. Seven to go.

We also learn that Itsuya’s treasurer in the StuCo is actually Garm, named for Garmr, a helldog/wolf whose howling heralds the coming of Ragnarök. He’s listed as a “watchdog” and sports a level three times higher than Natsuki’s. If he starts something, head pats and cheek pecks may not be enough to beat him.

Val x Love – 01 (First Impressions) – Love is the Source

This is the story of Akutsu Takuma, who is huge and scary-looking and thus is always likened to an akuma or demon and ostracized. In reality, Takuma is just as scared of people as they are of him, and prefers to live and study alone.

And yet, after a discussion among class boys about the school’s three most beautiful girls, Takuma comes home to find not just those three beautiful girls (in the middle of undressing no less) but five other women of various ages, all of whom have the same last name Saotome which isn’t his. He doesn’t like this situation, but it’s been this way for some time.

Val x Love makes an interesting choice to ease us into its supernatural elements by first presenting everything mundanely, and offering only hints as to what the Saotome sisters really are, why they alone don’t fear him, and why Takuma has allowed them to take over the house he inherited from his departed parents.

What is prevalent throughout the episode are references to a spate of recent “suspicious attacks” that many attribute to akuma; but until one actually appears, one could imagine people were only being superstitious (if you didn’t watch the OP, that is). In reality the attacks are being caused by summoned demons, one of which Takuma encounters when he’s out shopping with the second-youngest sister Natsuki, on the orders of the second-oldest, Ichika.

The other sisters gather on the roof to watch the result. Turns out the nine of them are Valkyries of Valhalla, brought to Midgard by Odin to save humanity. Because “love is the source of a maiden’s power”, the more they are loved, the stronger they are. Natsuki was chosen by the others to level up first, and after Takuma is wounded saving her from falling debris (not the first time that’s happened), she disrobes, has him massage her breasts, and kisses him.

In a massive flash of heavenly flame, the giant akuma is utterly eliminated, and for a few moments we see Natsuki in her Valkyrie form as Siegrune, The Blade, before passing out in Takuma’s arms. This makes Takuma Einherjar (named after those who died in battle and go to Valhalla), here the lover of the nine Valkyries appointed by Odin to raise their levels.

If that all sounds like a lot of poppycock, I’m here to tell you…it’s not the worst? I was expecting more comedy from a show that had it among its genres, but it mostly arose from the fact such a large brute as Akuma is so intimidated by everyone, and yet has what in his case is a case of very-unlucky lechery. The akuma designs are marginally striking, while the action was brief but convincing. High marks also go to Technoboys Pulcraft Green-Fund, who composed all of the music.

For those who see the Valkyrie angle as just another excuse for a lame harem, consider that Takuma’s strong reluctance to have in one feels more genuine than most harem MCs. His introverted personality and public perception that constantly feed his self-loathing make him a sympathetic lead. As he is the source of love that powers the Valkyries, they too could fuel a transformation in him from someone who only hopes to become a quiet, respectable person to something far greater.

HenSuki – 12 (Fin) – After Much Deliberation…

Keiki wakes up from a nightmare (in which he takes his new wife Sayuki out for a walk, like a dog) to find Mizuha in his bed, reiterating her love for him, kissing him, and essentially urging him to choose her among all his choices. Needless to say, she comes on too strong, and ends up pushing Keiki right out of the damn house.

He ignores Mizuha’s many calls and instead gets in touch with Shouma and Koharu, to tell him his situation and ask for a place to crash. Alas, Shouma’s house is full and he won’t allow Keiki to stay at Koharu’s. He also encounters Mao, fresh off a BL-writing all-nighter, who has bean cakes and milk at the ready for the hungry Keiki.

Mao only lends more evidence for her case as Best Girl by supporting Keiki without judging, while having her own thing going on separate from him. She may not be aware of Mizuha’s romantic love for him, and assumes they had a sibling spat, but she knows in the end the two of them will be fine. She even gets an accidental indirect kiss in!

The episode then widens into an extended montage with both Mizuha and Keiki attempting to text their feelings, but not actually sending any messages to each other. Keiki also called his dad, who confirmed that Mizuha was adopted, and Keiki warmly and immediately welcomed her into the family. It seems very odd he’d forget this.

In any case, even a single day away from home proves too much for Keiki, as he only just manages to get in the front door after getting caught in the rain before passing out, cold and feverish. Mizuha puts aside their present issue and takes care of her brother.

Mizuha calls Sayuki, who rushes to Keiki’s side and jumps in his bed to warm him. Sayuki also texts Yuika, reporting their boy is “defenseless,” but they ultimately can’t put their competition on hold long enough to calm down, so Mizuha kicks them both out so Keiki can get better in peace.

Keiki wakes up in the middle of the night, his condition improved, and once again walks in on a naked Mizuha in the bathroom. They stay on either side of the door trying to talk this thing out, and Mizuha mentions that her love for him began on that day when he welcomed her (which again, he forgot) and only grew from there. She lost her family in an accident, but gained a new one.

Still, Keiki had never viewed Mizuha as anything other than his little sister, and even though things will never quite be the same whether he accepts or rejects her love, he decides to remain that caring brother going forward. It’s a safe, sensible chocie that’s true to the character he’s been thus far.

That being said, he can’t weasel his way out of granting the command of the winner of the confession contest, and Mizuha wants him to be her boyfriend for a day. She concedes that going from brother to permanent boyfriend isn’t like flipping a switch, but seems determined to gradually change his mind.

It doesn’t help her case when he finds out her phone is full of selfies of her in various stages of undress. Turns out she’s a full-on exhibitionist! Looks like “normal” for Keiki was, is, and will always involve attracting women with particular tastes. A girl bereft of said tastes probably isn’t in the cards for him. Might as well go for Mao!

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 12 (Fin) – Using the Same Words on a Train with No Brakes

The girls might be referring to the hostage situation, but the real train with no brakes each one of them is on is adolescence. It’s a crazy chemical, biological train where bodies take off before minds are ready; where feelings are felt before the words to express them can be found.

The reaction of Tomita-sensei, the principal and vice principal to the girl’s act of rebellion couldn’t be any appropriate: they shrug and go back home, hoping things will cool off by morning, or in about a day or so. They’re not looking down on their students or mocking their seriousness.

Instead, all they have to do is remember when they were that age to know that in this case, anything they try to do or say in this situation can only make things worse. Better to let the crazy kids work things out; to find the brakes. Also, Tomita will be by in the morning with McDonalds breakfast! She’s an angel.

What Tomita also does is call Rika, the person for whom the girls kidnapped Yamagishi-sensei, and who arrives with Amagi by her side. But this isn’t just about Rika anymore; it’s about settling things among each other, so they don’t let Rika or Amagi in.

Rika contacts Izumi, who contacts Kazusa to tell her he’s coming. He sneaks in to find Niina tangled up on the floor with Momoko as Kazusa looks on. Niina thinks it the best time to confess her feelings to Izumi, but Momoko doesn’t accept Kazusa “giving her permission”, and she sure as hell doesn’t have hers.

Izumi somehow makes things far worse by declaring he’ll clearly state how he feels about both of them, then proceeding to say that he loves Kazusa but is sexually attracted to Niina, words so lacking in nuance and open to interpretation they end up satisfying no one.

No one, that is, except Niina, who we’ve known for a while now is too far removed from traditional “love” to value it as much as the pure physical attraction she can make better sense of, since she’s experienced it herself, most powerfully on the train when, as she says “he touched her.”

Those words also lack nuance and serve to stir the shit further, until Kazusa suggests they simply dispense with further words and make it a pure neolithic fight, like their pillow war at the bathhouse. Rika, who arrived with Amagi in time to castigate Izumi for his harsh and imprecise words, laments that her girls have been “driven mad by lust” but doesn’t think abandoning language is the answer.

The only adult in the room, Yamagishi, free of his binds, suggests that they combine some kind of “fight” with language: color tag. By having those who aren’t “it” look for a color the person who is “it” describes in a very personal way, it will enable them to reach beyond mere words to find the thoughts and feelings behind them.

Momoko fails to find Hitoha’s “gray sigh,” but when she just blurts out “peach-colored Momoko” despite not knowing what it is at the time, Niina still runs at full speed to find it.  Niina wants to understand Momoko’s feelings so they can continue being friends. Happy that Niina feels that way, she embraces Niina, declaring she is now “it.”

Niina tells the others to find the “Blues of our youth,” which leads Kazusa to a dark hall, where she thinks about how she’s felt like she’s been lost in that darkness ever since Niina fist mentioned sex during club, confused about romance, sexual desire, and everything in between. But once her eyes adjust and the moon peeks out of the clouds, she and the hallway are bathed in blue light—the blues of their youth.

Izumi ends up right there with Kazusa, and manages to use the opportunity to put how he’s feeling into better, more useful words. To Kazusa’s dawning realization and delight, he’s finally using the same words she would use to describe how she feels. Now they both have a useful tool to fall back on if they ever get anxious in the future. Neither of them are experts on what they’re headed into, but they’re speaking the same language, so they won’t be walking that path alone.

On the other fronts, in addition to Niina and Momoko making up, Hitoha notes Milo-sensei’s dedication to the advisor role even in such an unusual situation. When he plays the “you’re nothing if not entertaining” card on her, she proudly warns him not to “attempt to satisfy me with half-hearted platitudes,” as that isn’t entertaining.

Finally, with things calming down around them, things aren’t as bad as Mom-Mode Rika initially feared. She’s more concerned about Amagi’s experience kissing other girls. But Amagi isn’t that experienced after all, as he’s never kissed anyone on the forehead before, as he does with Rika, and which he states makes his heart race more than any past kiss. Dawwww.

The other girls find them before they’re able to start making out, and Amagi, Izumi, and Milo are all dismissed so the five girls can finish working things out without further interruption from members of the opposite sex.

Their group catharsis takes the form of a massive poster and banner-painting project that leaves the facade of the school plastered in revolutionary slogans and the girls sleeping in their clubroom, spattered in paint of all colors.

Those literal colors represent the proverbial colors that color the blank white canvas of youth as one goes through one’s savage season. To be so colored is no curse, nor anything of which anyone need be ashamed. They are necessary and inevitable—as much as a train with no brakes will, after enough distance with the throttle pulled back, eventually slow down and become more manageable.

After some time passes, it seems all of these young women are managing fine with the bevy of new colors that have been splashed across their canvases. Jujou sends Rika a photo of her, her boyfriend, and their new baby, aged two months. Rika is on a date with Amagi. Hitoha is working on a performance for Milo and Tomita’s wedding. Niina and Momoko are hanging out and having fun.

And Kazusa and Izumi are holding hands, in public while taking a train together. In a marvelous callback to an earlier episode when their train enters a tunnel, she thinks to herself with a placid smile, “It fit.”

O Maidens satisfied my desire for a candid and genuine teen romantic drama that didn’t rely on cliches and didn’t hold back. It was packed with richly-rendered, distinctive, and ultimately lovable characters, and didn’t hesitate to put them—and us—through the wringer, but also didn’t keep us or them in that wringer, and balanced drama and comedy with aplomb. It looked great, too.

Finally, while that ship was built on stormy seas, it managed to sail the ship I wanted! It would have been a dealbreaker if it hadn’t, but that makes all the difference between simply liking or admiring a show, and actually loving it. O Maidens just…fit.

HenSuki – 11 – A Matter of Math

This week’s HenSuki is a pool episode, but the pool trip is only a means with which Keiki intends to expose and confront Cinderella once and for all. And hey, if he gets to see the girls in swimsuits, including one he brought for Mizuha (since the trip is a total surprise for her), that’s just a bonus as far as he’s concerned.

Sayuki and Yuika, whom he’s ruled out as the culprit, get up to their usual antics in fighting over him, while Mao keeps her tsundere schtick going when she gets him to herself. Amidst all the liveliness Mizuha is somewhat shuffled to the side, but Keiki tracks her down and carries her when she gets a cramp, like he used to do when they were both smaller (and about the same size).

When Koharu enlists the girls to participate in a girl confession competition with the audience as the judge, all four girls score 92 or higher, with Mizuha breaking the equipment with her very heartfelt confession of love for her brother.

All of these clues involving Mizuha add up to the revelation in the waiting area that she is Cinderella. Keiki arranged things so that she wouldn’t have a change of underwear except the pair that accompanied the love letter, which she reclaimed and kept in her bag at all times. Koharu’s photo also proves she was where Cinderella would have to be at the time the love letter was planet.

Mizuha accepts that she’s been caught, and appreciates that Keiki went so far to find out it was her, as it meant he had to obsess over her for the duration. That’s because she really is in love with him, and it’s not sibling love. When Keiki tells her he’s flattered but he’s not okay with a brother and sister having romantic feelings, she drops a bombshell: they’re not related by blood.

While it’s still somewhat dubious Keiki would be okay with suddenly regarding a girl he’d always treated like a sister (by blood or not) romantically, I’m more shocked that after all these years he never considered it odd that the two of them were only five months apart in age. Seems like a pretty big oversight!

With the central mystery solved and just one episode to go, Keiki has a choice to make: accept Mizuha’s feelings and adjust their relationship accordingly, or reject her and either choose one of the others or choose nobody. Decision time!

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.

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.