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.

Asagao to Kase-san. (OVA) – The Sun is Always Shining Above the Clouds

Asagaro to Kase-san, an OVA released in the Summer of 2018, is a concise but solid piece of serious yuri storytelling in the vein of Aoi Hana, Sasameki Koto, and Sakura TrickIt strikes that delicate balance of covering a fair amount of material while never feeling like it’s trying to do too much. The stakes never stray from the future of a couple of young lovers who start dating in their final year of high school.

That they’re both girls, living in relatively conservative Japan, never comes up, because this isn’t about whether they can be together or not. It’s about their mutual love, plain and simple, and how they weather other challenges to remain together, a state neither of them at any point wish to leave.

Mild-mannered gardening fanatic Yamada Yui had never dated anyone before she and the athletic track star Kase Tomoka got together, but they’re together before the opening credits, which is a heck of a timesaver! Suffice it to say they liked each other to the extent they were equally enthusiastic about becoming a couple.

That mutual enthusiasm paid dividends, as before long the like turned to love. There’s never any doubt that Kase is as smitten with Yamada as vice-versa, even if the latter tends to feel inferior due to Kase’s social and literal stature at school. There are also times when she allows Kase to swept up by others, often interrupting potential time alone.

But while Yamada comes to realize she’ll have to be more assertive at times, the fact that Kase is so popular isn’t a problem for her; it serves to validate why she loves her so much in the first place: Kase’s a surpassingly kind and gregarious young woman.

In any case, in moments when Yamada might feel lonely due to indulging Kase’s natural gregariousness, Kase’s own desire to be alone with Yamada means it’s never that long before she seeks Yamada out, both grateful for her patience and relieved to have in her a kind of haven.

Time with Yamada is special to Kase; more special than time with anyone else. That’s whether they’re on an intimate nighttime phone call, alone together in Yamada’s room raising the temperature a bit, or on a beach in Okinawa making up and out after Yamada gets a bit too “surprised” seeing Kase nude.

The biggest threat to their relationship isn’t the fact that they’re both girls, which is refreshing. Instead, like any other relationship, it’s the unrelenting march of time and the changes it brings. Kase is on the fast track to Tokyo U on an athletic scholarship; Yamada’s inertia seems to be keeping her tethered to her hometown, commuting to the local college from home.

Especially when Kase calls to offer to turn down the scholarship and she essentially tells her not to, Yamada is on the cusp of relegating their relationship to a long-distance affair, with visits very few and far between. It’s only on the very day Kase leaves for Tokyo that Yamada wakes up and realizes she doesn’t want that at all. She wants as much Kase as she can get, and so she runs and keeps running until she’s in Kase’s arms aboard the Shinkansen.

How will Yamada manage to get into a Tokyo school? Ehh, she’ll figure it out! The most important thing is that they’re together, like they want to be. They’re also on the same wavelength; Kase really didn’t want to leave Yamada, but felt trapped by the circumstance of her athletic excellence. Fortunately for her, Yamada wasn’t going to let something like that cause what they had to fall apart.

Backed by gorgeous animation and superb voice work from Sakura Ayane and Takahashi Minami, Asagao to Kase-san delivers an elegant and captivating romance between two girls for whom simply no one else would do, and whose bond managed to withstand the winds of change. Give it a watch and your heart will grow at least three sizes!

HenSuki – 03 – The Third Way

With Sayuki and Yuika declaring themselves masochist and sadist and their intent to make Keiki their master/slave respectively, one thing becomes clear: Keiki isn’t that into this. He avoided dating girls because he felt himself to normal and boring, but now he’s having nightmares as a result of Yuika’s “punishment” last week. He doesn’t even want to go to school, but Mizuha makes him, since he’s not really ill.

Things don’t get any easier for Keiki, as he’s greeted by Yuika’s bra in his shoe locker, followed by a photo of him with his shirt open lying with Sayuki, with the implication it will be distributed if he doesn’t meet with her. When he gets there, Sayuki is dressed as a maid and handcuffed; he must fish the key out of her cleavage.

All the while, the third girl in his life (not counting his sister), Nanjou Mao, keeps watching silently from afar, her gentle blushing going completely unnoticed by Keiki. But when he tells his best mate he doesn’t believe Sayuki or Keiki are the Cinderella, that friend points out Mao’s staring, who it’s directed at, and what that entails.

Mao’s passive role thus far becomes more active by necessity when Keiki is once again summoned to the clubroom by Sayuki, but is intercepted by Yuika, who ties him up and orders him to kiss her foot or she’ll steal his first kiss on the lips. Sayuki barges in to put a stop to it, and the girls, who have known about each other’s proclivities since they met, start to bicker, with Keiki in the middle.

Enter Mao, who drags Keiki, chair, rope and all, into the hall, away from the two warring girls. He blames him for being so nice to both of them and indulging them too much, and in the process betrays that she’s been observing his interactions with them very closely (we dohear a camera click when he’s fishing out the handcuff keys…was that Mao?).

When Keiki asks why this concerns her at all, Mao has no choice but to be more direct: she just plain doesn’t like it when he’s with other girls. That could well be because she’s developed feelings for her childhood friend, but it also means a third girl has decided to try and assert control over him. Perhaps not as a formal master or slave, but it’s definitely possessive and unbidden by Keiki.

Considering how uncomfortable the other two girls’ antics have made Keiki, perhaps Mao is the “Goldilocks” answer, but first he has to determine whether her particular kink (stalking?) is more or less manageable.

Domestic na Kanojo – 11 – There’s Always Someone Better

After lying and keeping secrets for so long, Natsuo finally tells Rui everything, from his long time love of Hina to his determination to be with her in the future. But just because it’s the truth doesn’t make the words sting any less. After sharing one last kiss and an evening of private sobbing, Rui is also determined to move on from Natsuo.

Of course, since it’s impossible for Rui to not handle such things in an odd way, she announces to Natsuo the next morning that she’s decided to “start disliking him.” I can’t say I blame her, as Natsuo has grown more selfish and insufferable with each passing week, but in her case it’s a defense mechanism. She’ll still treat him like family, but otherwise, she’s done.

At least Natsuo gets to talk to Rui; Rui freezes out Hina both on LINE and at school, where Natsuo and Hina misguidedly meet up once again to discuss it. The episode suddenly makes a hard right turn from the love triangle to…the “Natsuo Striving to be an Author” plot, when Rui wins an award instead of him (or Miu, for that matter).

This shakes Natsuo to his core, despite the fact, if he’s honest, he’s spent far more time lately being a horndog with Hina than he has crafting brilliant narratives. Still, he believes the solution is to go to Akari’s house announced and beg him to make him his apprentice. It’s not any more pleasant than Natsuo begging for sex.

His sensei turns him down in this case, because becoming his apprentice is not the way to go about becoming a good author; it takes actual struggle and hard work, not just connections. Natsuo takes this to mean writing one short story per week. Then, in another bit of whiplash, the episode makes another hard turn to School Beach Trip territory.

This means not only Rui and Miu and Momo in swimsuits, but Hina as well, and as she plays volleyball with the students, she looks more like a teacher than a student. Rui takes her aside to remark on the inappropriateness of her swimsuit, but Hina is so happy she’s not ignoring her anymore, that it leads to the two making up.

Rui isn’t interested in Hina breaking up with Natsuo if she still has real feelings for him; instead, she’s prepared to concede him to her and pursue other options. Honestly it’s probably a good move by Rui…if she can stick the landing. But Rui’s assurances don’t dissuade Hina from deciding to break up with Natsuo anyway, since it’s just not a tenable relationship.

It’s disappointing to see Hina’s position so callously overruled by Natsuo thanks to a cheap ring and a promise that he’ll make an honest woman of her for sure, even proposing marriage. Their two positions couldn’t be further apart, but there’s no compromise, Natsuo simply gets what he wants, again. 

While he may talk about caring about the future, it’s Hina who was looking out for both of them by suggesting they end things while they still can. Instead, they make out in front of an open window during a fireworks display, then have sex and apparently spend the night together.

These are not good decisions, as Hina learns on the first day back at school, when she’s summoned by the principal, who presents her a photo of her, and Natsuo, kissing by the open window, during the fireworks display.

She and Natsuo were so caught up in being together that they got sloppy, never stopping to think how others (who weren’t Rui) mind think and feel about them together. In the school’s case, it’s likely a fireable offense, and certainly a black mark on its reputation. Suffice it to say Hina is well and truly fucked.

Domestic na Kanojo – 10 – Cowardly Lion

This week’s cold open features Hina cooking for Natsuo at her place—or rather trying to cook while he paws her. They look cozy, comfortable; lived-in. It’s clear he’s been coming to her place a lot. Cut to what must mercifully be the shortest cultural festival I can remember (they usually take up 2-3 episodes in shows like this!) followed by the concerned lit club members paying Kiriya-sensei a visit.

Turns out Kiriya is not just a famous author, but one of Natsuo’s idols. He presents Natsuo with the opportunity to submit his work for an award that could get him on the fast track to a professional writing career. Later, Natsuo teases Miu about liking Kiriya, and she accidentally shoves him down some stairs, fracturing his leg.

Natsuo’s physical “crashing down” is a portent for another imminent and unavoidable collapse: that of his half-assed web of lies!

I was very cross with the whole Natsuo x Hina situation last week, but I’ve moved on to the acceptance phase: I like Rui better, but it doesn’t look like it’s in the cards for her, so better to move on and see where this goes. But just because I’ve moved on doesn’t mean Rui isn’t going to use Natsuo’s injury as an excuse to act as his nurse—a role she embraces with gusto, including washing him in the bath while nude (and accidentally mistaking his little Natsuo for a soap pump).

It’s when Rui mentions how much she’s missed Natsuo being “at Fumiya’s house” so often recently that we learn how he’s gotten away with his visits to her under Rui’s watchful gaze: He’s just lying to Rui, because he’s a coward. Just like the Cowardly Lion in the school play. When Rui tells Fumiya about Natsuo’s leg, he says he hasn’t been by in ages. When Natsuo is caught in a lie and confronted by Rui, he lies again, saying he was going to Momo’s.

But the next time Natsuo is at Hina’s, and things start to get hot and heavy despite the cast, there’s a ring at the door and it’s Rui. When she sees Natsuo on the floor, clearly having been up to no good with Hina moments before, her eyes well up with tears and she storms off into the rainy night. The mood ruined, Natsuo goes home. But Rui isn’t there.

After a long time looking for her on his wet, muddy cast, Natsuo finally finds her, and she has a slap in the face ready for him. Turns out she was awakened to the possibility of where Natsuo might be (if not Fumiya’s) when she read his novel (which is presumably an extremely fast read). It’s the semi-biographical story of a student falling for his teacher even though he had a girlfriend.

Only instead of a girlfriend, Natsuo has Rui, the first person he slept with. Only he was never in love with her, but with Hina. Just because Rui has developed strong feelings for him doesn’t change that fact. It’s just a shame she had to find out the way she did, and that Natsuo had to lie to her not once but twice. This was the the wake-up call he needed to stir up some of that “nerve” the Cowardly Lion yearned for…it just came too late to spare Rui.

Bloom Into You – 12 – Changing the Ending

Actors put draw from personal pain to express pain in their performances, but in light of what Ichigaya told her about her sister, the line between performance and real emotion is perilously thin. Sure, Touko blows everyone away with her line-reading, but they don’t know that almost all of those lines could be said about her!

Everyone, except for Yuu and Sayaka. But all throughout camp, just as Yuu’s affection for Touko seems to be growing, the combination of Touko’s promise to hold back and Sayaka assigning herself in charge of “looking after” Touko, you can see Yuu grow increasingly lonely and frustrated. Yuu knows that Touko wasn’t acting when talking about who the “real her” was.

After Sayaka dismisses Yuu’s concerns (and frankly doesn’t see the need to discuss it with a kohei at all), Yuu seizes an opportunity when she and Touko are alone and all but orders her to walk her home. She asks about Touko and her family’s further Summer plans. She stops at the railroad crossing and remembers the kiss Touko gave her.

Then, she takes the initiative once more. When Touko’s about to go her separate way, Yuu invites her to her room, and is honest about why: if they part there, they won’t see each other for a while, and she doesn’t like that. She wants Touko to have more faith in her, for she’s holding up her end of the bargain, neither loving nor hating her. Touko accepts, but warns Yuu that she’s going to “indulge” herself.

What ensues is the steamiest scene between the two yet, and another demonstration of how Yuu is probably not being fully honest with herself when it comes to how she feels about Touko.

The show pulls no bush-league parent barge-ins; the two have each other all to themselves, and spend it on the bed until dusk. Kudos to the sound designer and the voice actors for the very immersive blowing fan, as well as the extremely subtle sound effect of the girls’ lips meeting. Touko’s flowing hair is also impressively handled.

During that time, Touko opens up to her about why she’s upset, just as she hoped she would. She expresses how lost and aimless she feels now that her idea of who her sister was might not be remotely accurate. Yuu asks why she needs to “become” someone other than who she currently is.

Again, Touko’s self-loathing surfaces in response. Assuming (perhaps wrongly) Yuu feels nothing for her, she questions why she’d stay the way she is. Then, after getting on top and kissing Yuu some more, Touko whispers in her ear “Don’t fall in love with me. Because, you know, I hate myself. And I can’t be in love with someone who likes the things I hate, right?”

Well, wrong, Touko! Staking her love entirely on the person she loves never loving her back just…that’s not how this works! That assumes Yuu’s feelings will never change no matter what, even as Touko insists upon changing into someone better than she is.  Like she can evolve, but Yuu can’t. It’s unfair, selfish, and utterly misguided. But it’s also what you’d expect of someone with Touko’s experiences.

Yuu agrees with me, in that just because you can logically explain why Touko feels this way doesn’t mean you have to accept it. And Yuu won’t. She yells “Senpai, you idiot!!” when they part, hoping Touko heard her. After spending some time alone with her thoughts, she calls Kanou: she wants to change the ending.

She runs to Kanou’s house to explain, and ends up drawing out the very reason Kanou was so frustrating with the ending as she wrote it (the girl ends up becoming the person her lover remembers).  It all comes down to why the character would pick that version of her: the motivations are totally couched in the past, rather than in the present duration when she’s lacked memories but gained insights from three different people.

The need to choose one and only one of the three version to “become” was always a false one; both Kanou and Yuu see this strongly implicitly. Realistically, there’s a fourth way to go, an ending where that false choice isn’t made. But Yuu doesn’t simply seek to change the play’s ending. She wants to change Touko herself; to somehow get her to see that there’s no single answer. She doesn’t want Touko to hate herself.

It may be selfish or arrogant (and her gaze into the stars of the mini-planetarium do give her a very imperious bearing), but it’s what she’s setting out to do. Hopefully, she’ll take a second at some point and figure out why she has to…though something tells me she already knows.

Bloom Into You – 04 – The Spectator

Yuu’s friend Koyomi is distracted from after-school study since she’s busy writing what I’m guessing is a love letter. She doesn’t reveal this fact to Yuu, preferring to keep it secret, as such things should be, at least until you have a better handle on how it will go. Yuu doesn’t have time to give her friend’s reaction too much thought, because new Student Council President Nanami Touko has arrived to pick her up to go to the council office. Touko also introduces the fifth and newest member, a first-year boy, Doujima Suguru.

Touko lays out the general areas when they’ll be busiest, no more so than the cultural festival. She wants to bring back the StuCo stage play, in which they’ll fill performing roles while the various creative clubs provide script, costumes, sets, etc., in lieu of a theater club (which the school doesn’t have). Touko is enthusiastic about the idea (obviously; it’s hers), as is Doujima. VP Sayaka can be counted on to go along with whatever Touko wants, as always.

The two holdouts are Yuu and Maki Seiji. Yuu doesn’t like big crowds (she did quite well with her speech, but that doesn’t mean she enjoyed it), while Maki prefers to work “in the background” in a support role, as he did in the past in sports clubs. Ironically, it was that speech that inspired Doujima to join; Yuu seemed so fired up about joining in that moment!

After a long day of council work, much of it organizing the mess of files of the previous administration, everyone heads out except for Touko and Yuu. Yuu was going to leave too, but gets a Look from Touko that keeps her there. The fact she stays, and for no reason other than to keep Touko company…that innate kindness of Yuu gets Touko all hot and bothered.

She wants to kiss Yuu…badly. Yuu brings up how she made it clear ‘she can’t return the same feelings so why is Touko coming on to her’. But it’s Yuu letting Touko love her that makes Touko love her that much more. That same kind Yuu doesn’t exactly hate being kissed, and if she said she “wasn’t interested”, she’d be lying. So they kiss. And as they kiss, Maki comes back to grab his pencil case…and sees them. But they don’t see him.

The next day, Maki acts naturally with Yuu, which is to say, they have a good working relationship as student council colleagues. Yuu brings him the pencil case he couldn’t grab. We don’t know Maki all that well, except that we know that “the background” is his wheelhouse; he likes to help out, not stand out. To that end, him spreading rumors isn’t something he’d do.

All I can say is, thank God it wasn’t Doujima who spotted Yuu and Touko, or it might already have spread to the whole school. Maybe that’s not being entirely fair to Doujima, whom I also barely know, but from what we gather in his interaction with a distracted-looking Maki, we can glean that he’s a more “conventional” high school boy; he has a specific type of girl he’s into and asks Maki what his type is (to which he says he has none).

The more he observes Touko and Yuu, the more he learns and realizes about them. He also observes Sayaka, who he can tell feels threatened by Yuu, and she isn’t even that good at hiding it, saying, in effect, Touko’s first-year obsession “will pass” which is clearly wishful thinking on her part. That outcome serves her, but she’s not really thinking about what Touko wants, is she now?

When Maki heads back to the school from the office, Yuu accompanies him, and on the way. They talk about her and Touko, and he informs her that he saw them kiss, asking if they’re dating. Yuu is petrified; not knowing who Maki is, she envisions her version of the worst-case scenario: word spreads, and it hurts Touko.

But again, Maki isn’t going to use what he knows for anything malicious; it’s just not who he is. Touko and Yuu didn’t do anything to him; why would he do something to hurt them? It does nothing for him. What does do something for him, on the other hand, is knowing they’re a couple, and specifically being the only one who knows.

You see, Maki is not your normal high school kid either. He’s not interested in getting into or being in a relationship; only observing them from a comfortable place. It doesn’t matter if it’s a girl and a guy, or two guys or two girls; as long as he’s a spectator and not a participant (the closest to anger we see him exhibit is when he himself was confessed to in the past, shattering his “fourth wall.”

Somehow, some way, this doesn’t come off as creepy. Perhaps it’s because the way he expresses it felt so innocent to me. I’m not saying it’s a healthy or unhealthy way to live your life, and neither does the show judge him either way.

What matters to Yuu is that Maki discretely told her, alone, in a prompt fashion. So when he says he won’t tell anyone—not even Touko—both Yuu and I trust him.

Maki’s passive way of navigating the tempestuous seas of high school affords him unique insights that more active participants will often overlook. For instance: he can tell Touko is special to Yuu, because without even thinking Yuu put Touko’s wellfare before her own vis-a-vis their secret.

Maki doesn’t hate love, he just wants to be above the fray and watch it…one more reason he won’t mess with Yuu and Touko. To do so would be as unthinkable as standing up in the middle of a play and interrupting the actors on the stage (assuming, of course, it’s a non-interactive play).

And so for the first time, Yuu is flustered by someone other than Touko on the subject of her feelings for her. What she thought to be “normal” may actually be the “special”-ness she thought she’d never achieve. This changes everything.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 02 – Half a Year Won’t Be Enough

Last week I noted how 3DK succeeded because it was committed to depicting a relationship of equals from the start, and that continues early this week when Iroha immediately challenges those who whisper unkind things about her new boyfriend.

Hikari doesn’t mind—he thinks he is gloomy, at least at school—but would rather she didn’t call attention to him. But at this stage Hikari is also still weary of getting to deeply into a relationship that will probably end in half a year when she moves (let’s face it, long-distance sucks).

His inexperience in 3D girl relationships rears its ugly head when Iroha gives him a clear invitation to go on a date Sunday, but he doesn’t get the hint at the time, and sticks to his original plan of waiting in line, buying a game, and playing it. But when he sees Iroha with another man, he’s both hurt and angry (and likely calling to mind her rep at school, threatening to  fall into the classthink trap once more).

But suddenly Iroha is throwing stones at his window because she missed him, and assuming the other guy was a misunderstanding, had no reason to doubt her sincerity. Then he babbles about “not having the patience” of
those other guys” and doesn’t know how to find out whether he and she are seriously dating.

Iroha has an idea: take him to a hotel where they can sleep together. She says it’s her first time—another way they’re on the same level—but he feels like she’s “undervaluing herself” by consenting to sex when they still barely know each other.

Then…he runs out, just leaving her there, presumably to pay for the room. Sorry, but that’s just bad form. I understand not being ready for sex and This All Happening So Fast and not seeming as “special” as you thought, but you could, you know, stay and talk with her. Maybe he still had that other guy in his head…or maybe he just panicked.

The next day, Hikari encounters that other guy, who tells them he’s not dating Iroha, and Hikari takes that to mean there’s some other kind of relationship in play, and that Iroha would be better off with a normie than the gloomy likes of him.

The doc, for his part, is a wonderful neutral observer of Hikari, and takes note of Hikari’s lack of backbone. Even if he’s not really involved with Iroha, he would hope someone who is would fight for her rather than scurry off.

The situation is resolved when Hikari calls Iroha to the school roof and tells her about the other guy. Iroha in turn spits out a sequence of lies about the doc being her boyfriend and having a serious illness. But she cops to the lies almost immediately.

There’s a wonderful disarming vulnerability to those short-lived lies of hers, like she’s putting out feelers to test Hikari’s reactions. Eventually, the air is fully cleared (she only visits the doc for her asthma), after Hikari is inspired by his favorite magical girl anime and vows to protect her, which Iroha rightly points out is a bit narcissistic.

Still, she’s happy Hikari is thinking of her (in his own way). She also invites herself to his house, nearly causing his mom and little brother to lose their shit with vicarious excitement. Having a girl who likes you and who like in your room seems to simple in concept, but it’s momentous in practice.

In the process, Iroha has the same reaction to his anime as he had when he first watched it, and he realizes her open-mindedness has always been a reliable constant since they started interacting. That helps put him further at ease, and the two almost kiss, but are interrupted.

In any case, Hikari learns from the doc that Iroha’s birthday is imminent, and his mom rustles up some amusement park tickets, because she knows damn well how useless her son is with cultivating romance. With help from Hikari’s trusty friend Itou, he creates a clay figurine of Iroha-as-magical girl to give her after a fun-filled day at the park.

This could have easily been weird and a little creepy, so I’m glad it turned out to be a very sweet and heartfelt gesture. He worked long nights during which he’d otherwise have been gaming to craft something of sufficient quality, then offered it at precisely the perfect time as a surprise, complete with a pretty good line if you’re in high school: “You also use magic. When I’m with you, amazing things constantly happen.” For that, he gets a kiss, and since they’re in a Ferris Wheel, there are no interruptions.

Hikari and Iroha made a lot of progress this week towards learning more about and understanding one another. But the fact remains she’ll be out of his life again in less than half a year, and it’s already tearing him apart inside. But if it’s truly love between these two, I’m sure a way can be found to avoid permanent separation.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 01 – Sudden Romantic Adventures in the Third Dimension! (First Impressions)

Having watched my fare share of anime romances (and being in a couple of actual ones), if I’ve learned one thing it’s that balance appeals to me. One-sided relationships can evolve over time into mutual enthusiasm, but more often than not simply fizzle out, so it’s best when both parties—girl-guy, guy-guy, girl-girl, whatever—have an equal stake a prospective relationship.

That’s what we get with 3D Kanojo: two people who on the surface couldn’t be more different (gal and otaku) but who are both fundamentally good people, yet also lonely due to their personalities and mannerisms falling outside the social mainstream. This is the story of them coming together due to a realization that there’s more alike than different about them, especially in the places where it really matters.

Tsutsui Hikari is an otaku, and a middle school of being ostracized and mocked for it has hardened his heart, particularly against real girls. He brings that baggage and buys into the classthink about Igarashi Iroha being bad news, “gaudy, sleazy, and disliked by girls” as she is.

Already, a similarity: both are disliked by “normal” girls. He also latches onto a perceived insult from Iroha when the two have to clean the pool: she uses the word “gross”, which is clearly a trigger for the long-suffering Hikari. Nothing else about their early interactions suggests Iroha harbors any particular malice towards Hikari. In fact, she tells him she should “fall in love” or something.

That Sunday we witness the banality of malice Hikari and his only friend and fellow otaku Itou Yuuto endured when his former middle school classmate Mika recognizes him and continues treating him like a big gross joke. When he stands up for himself, Mika doubles down.

Then Iroha appears, in her Sunday Most Glamorous, acts as if she and Hikari are a couple, then shoos off  the “fugly” girls who were needlessly going after Iroha. She even clarifies “gross” remark she made was merely about how he might feel about his bangs in his eyes, not directed at him, while admitting that with Itou, Hikari has one more friend than she does.

Both Hikari and Itou have no choice but to consider that perhaps Iroha—someone they did not know—is actually a good person, now that they know a little more about her.

Back at school, Iroha finds herself in the middle of an unwanted love triangle, and the boy who believes she belongs to him yells at her and slaps her. After momentarily standing aside and allowing her to “get what she deserves”, Hikari thankfully and quickly corrects his assessment, and puts himself between Iroha and further physical danger.

The values of standing up for what’s right and not backing down are among the advantages of his anime fandom, if not his self-preservation. He may be far weaker than this karate captain guy, but it doesn’t matter, he’s in the right.

Boy or girl, preying on the weak is wrong, at least in human society. It may still go on all the damn time, but Hikari found himself in a position to stop an instance of it, so he did…even if people thinks he’s being “gross” for trying to be a hero.

Iroha doesn’t think it’s gross. She stays with the injured Hikari until he insists she let him be, giving him a kiss as thanks for his help. But when she approaches him in class and very publicly asks him out, Hikari panics and rejects her out of hand.

In doing so he again lets himself get taken in by the classthink, despite having a better, more nuanced idea of who Iroha is. Despite being saved by her, and despite saving her, Hikari’s lack of trust in girls remains a powerful, almost reflexive force in his psyche.

It’s a good thing Hikari has the one friend, because it’s Itou who repeats the words of their favorite magical girl, Ezomichi: “You call yourself a man? You Coward!” in assessing Hikari’s reluctance to trust or respond to Iroha’s feelings. But forget masculine conventions: any relationship means bearing a part of yourself.

Hikari will have to fight against the shell of distrust he’s created to do so. To his credit, he attempts to do so, first by gathering more information about Iroha. His method for doing so—doing a terrible job stalking her—isn’t ideal, but we’re dealing with someone not well-versed in social skills.

Iroha can be a bit of a trouble magnet, such as when she’s suddenly wrongfully accused of shoplifting at a bookstore. But Hikari steps between Iroha and her accuser before Iroha strips to prove her innocence, intricately detailing Iroha’s activities since he left the hospital.

When it’s time to part, and it’s raining, Hikari lends Iroha his umbrella, and she tells him she didn’t ask him out as a whim, or out of pity: but because of how he made her feel after he stopped the karate boy. She felt it again when he saved her from injustice.

Predictably, Hikari catches cold, but refuses to break his perfect attendance record, and is soon back at school with a mask. He’s late, and has to clean the pool again…but Iroha is late too…on purpose. The cleaning duty, as well as his cold, is partially her fault (she’s willing to share the blame with him), so she removes his mask and kisses him, before going to clean the pool herself

By now, Hikari knows how he feels for this real girl, but remains apprehensive to the point of inaction. Itou reminds him of the “unconquerable resilience” they’ve both developed after years of people being cruel to them.

It’s time to re-purpose that resilience by going out on a limb and trusting somebody. Being played with or manipulated; losing his pride or dignity…that may well happen anyway. There will always be some who deem him gross out of hand. He can’t worry about that, and in any case, he’s prepared to weather it.

So he runs to the pool, asks Iroha out, and they embrace, with the caveat that she’ll be transferring schools in half a year. Hikari’s first romance may well be short, but there’s every possibility in the world it can be a sweet and rewarding one…as long as it’s a relationship of equals.

Between Tada-kun and 3D Kanojo, week one is a clear win for 3D. It was more than a collection of happy coincidences and provided far more detail and nuance in its leads, making me more emotionally invested and excited for what comes next. Also, Hikari’s timid sidekick is a lot more tolerable than Mitsuyoshi’s brash one.

Mahoutsukai no Yome – 16

The pagan holiday of Yule is upon Chise and Elias, and the Yule Twins appear to remind them to make their preparations, gathering various logs, boughs, leaves and berries. Elias wants to make certain Chise doesn’t overwork herself (she herself wonders if she’ll make it to next Fall), while they both have to convince Ruth that he’s not a failure of a familiar after Chise’s latest scare.

These scenes are imbued with the spirit and the beauty of the season, from the snow shimmering in the setting sun to the awkward exchange of kisses under the mistletoe. Elias reports that Chise’s kiss made him a little “tingly” in the neck and back, but is that because he felt something emotionally, or just feeling the effects of having to crouch down?

The next day, after receiving a message via bird in the night, Chise sneaks away to London on her own, where she meets Alice. Alice wants to hang, but also needs advice on what to get Renfred for Christmas. It occurs to Chise she hadn’t even considered getting Elias a gift, but wants to do so.

As they shop and eat and eat and shop, Alice eventually runs into a “straggler from her past”, who wants to sell her drugs. When he doesn’t take no for an answer, Alice kicks him in the balls, and Chise scares of his friends with a ferocious Ruth (eager to redeem himself).

Now that Chise has seen a glimpse of Alice’s past, she tells Alice not to hold back on talking about that past just because it might be uncomfortable; after all, Chise knows something about rough pasts!

Alice was a drug dealer and an addict until one day Renfred plucked her off the streets, invited her into his home as a ward of sorts, and stayed with her throughout the long, painful withdrawal process.

Once she was clean he put her to work organizing his library, but when she opened the wrong book a monster jumped out to attack her, and Renfred took the attack for her, having his face all ripped off.

From then on, Alice knew she could trust Renfred, which made him the first person she could trust in her life. Now that extends to at least a second person, as she clearly trusts and likes Chise enough to open up like this.

Once their shopping for their respective masters is finished, the two part ways, and Chise and Ruth (who is happy Chise has made a friend) head home, where an “angry” Elias is waiting. I use angry in quotes because he himself isn’t sure what it means to be angry, but if he was going to be angry it would be because Chise ran off alone without telling him anything.

Still, Elias is happy with Chise’s gift for him, a new string tie, while Chise learns that Elias has a knack for making teddy bears, and made a big one, his best yet, for her. He also points out other presents for her to open Christmas morning.

Chise goes to bed warm, excited, and actually looking forward to the morning, something that would have been quite foreign in her dark past. The next day Ashen Eye finds “a pitiful child” walking in the snow; likely the subject of next week’s episode. But this week was all about Yule, Christmas, and two women with dark pasts living much brighter, happier lives. I can dig it.

Aho Girl – 12 (Fin)

The final episode of Aho Girl falls on the tenth anniversary of A-kun and Yoshiko meeting when she and her mom moved in next door. Yoshiko sought a playmate, and it was derision at first sight for A-kun, a stoic, studious five-year-old. She treats every attempt to avoid or get away from her as a game, and never wants to stop playing. When she gives him a big long kiss, he uppercuts her into the sky for the first time.

Realizing the key to keeping Yoshiko away is physical superiority, A-kun begins rigorous training, Rocky-style. Alas, he ends up training too hard and passes out. He wakes up with Yoshiko on top of him, she stayed by his side for an entire day while he was out with a cold. He almost allows that she’s “not that bad” until his mom tells him she was kissing him the whole time. To add insult to injury, his punches can’t even faze her!

If fighting her doesn’t work, A-kun considers other options; after all, he can’t let this go on, lest he end up marrying Yoshiko and having idiot kids with her. So he turns into a demented pervert and chases her around, flipping her skirt, until she cries and he feels guilty for going to far. But even here Yoshiko manages to get the wrong idea, and apologizes for making A-kun “hold back”, removing her panties and putting them on his face.

Ten years later, she’s wearing those same panties (which don’t fit her anymore at all), still trying to play with A-kun when all he wasnts is peace and quiet; and after all these years he still wants to kill her. But if he’s honest, isn’t he glad there’s someone in his life to make things interesting? No. He hates her guts. But does he? Yes.

Tsurezure Children – 11

There’s a lovely momentum to this week’s quartet of stories, befitting what may be the second-to-last episode (though I wouldn’t mind a second cour) – things seem right on the cusp of coming together for some of the more stubborn pairs, thanks in part to third parties.

Take Chizuru, who learns through Ayaka’s now active and thriving relationship, what it actually means and how it feels to be in love. There are too many coincidences for her to merely shrug this off, and too many who have heard the rumor Sugawara likes her.

As for what I consider the most emotionally close (if physically furthest away) relationship, Kana ignores Chiaki after the first kiss incident, and he thinks he’s been dumped. Kana’s friend tells her breaking up is a bit much for a muffed first kiss, and she knows that. It gets to the point where she thinks she’s ignored him enough, and starts to worry that he might hate her.

The two are so in sync, Chiaki decides to send one last message just as Kana decides to accept one last message, if he apologizes. Everything’s looking good…until she drops her phone in the tub! I’m not too too worried, though; if these two really love each other, they’re not going to let technological snafus keep them apart.

Still reeling from their technological snafu, Takase and Kanda are both still interested, but weary of making the first move, even to the point of asking for/offering pencil leads for final exams. Enter Minagawa, the third party, to tell Kanda to get them from Takase as a means to get closer.

She chickens out, but Takase, who has the easier job here, thankfully doesn’t. When Kanda runs out of lead, he tosses her more, and after the exams they’re on friendly speaking terms again; which is what they both want.

The third party in Ryouko’s case is the entire rest of her class. As she crams for the exam after so many months of slacking off like a yankee should, she gets super-self-conscious about how that class sees her, worried they’re all better than her because they studied more or something.

Akagi wants to offer support while she’s studying in class, but won’t (and orders the Prince kid to hit him if he does), since Ryouko will be alone for the actual exam, after all. We’ve seen precious little of Akagi without Ryouko around, and it’s nice to see his hands shaking in anxiety because he’s worried about his girlfriend.

Ryouko doesn’t have what you’d call a fun time during exams, but who does? When she drops her eraser, she’s even too self-conscious to raise her hand. Her classmate Patricia Shibasaki picks it up for her, and adds that she’s rooting for her. Her nerve restored, Ryouko can continue.